When Canadians created cenotaphs and memorials to grieve the terrible losses of the First World War, they listed surnames and initials of the Fallen without abbreviations of ranks, decorations or units because they recognized that all are equal in death. It is the context and significance we attach to the deaths of people that defines how we commemorate them. One way is to recognize examples of valour, courage, gallantry, bravery and meritorious service to the country in times of war by citizens and soldiers.
This article will review the definitions, descriptions, and criteria applied to acknowledge and recognize degrees of sacrifice and service. Then, based on our records in the Okanagan Military Honour Roll, we will examine some examples of decorated individuals from different communities in the Okanagan that died during the World Wars of the 20th century. Since the World Wars consumed and employed significantly more men than events after 1945, we include only one decoration, the Star of Military Valour (SMV) for the 21st century.
First, some definitions. According to Harvey Ardman at Quora1, “Valor is a quality (that) usually carries a connotation of self-sacrifice. It is a noble, almost religious act. Courage is the ability to persevere despite obstacles and fear. Bravery is a word usually used to describe soldiers who take great risks to do what they think must be done, actions that might ordinarily be thought of as foolhardy, except for the grim determination with which they are undertaken. Gallantry is a word closely connected to chivalry. It often involves sacrificing oneself on behalf of women and children. It is a doomed kind of bravery, an act destined to fail, but all the more admirable for that reason.” We might add that courage is related to moral convictions and personal character. Also, on Quora, Monica R. Smith notes “that bravery is not the absence of fear, but it is courage when you are afraid.” Finally, meritorious service is an action or devotion to duty that is deserving of praise, recognition, or reward.
The hierarchy of the specific Canadian Orders, Decorations and Awards2 related to our examples are the Victoria Cross (VC), the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), the Military Cross (MC), the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), the Air Force Cross (AFC), the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), the Military Medal (MM), the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM), and the Mentioned in Despatches (MiD). Each has specific criteria for qualification, including one’s rank, either a commissioned Officer or a member of the Other Ranks. For example, a Lieutenant – a junior officer, and a Sergeant – a senior non-commissioned Officer, showed equal qualities during an action in the face of the enemy. One might get the Military Cross and the other the Military Medal because of their rank. Or the officer receives the award, and the Sergeant might be mentioned favourably in the unit’s War Diary. Nominations, endorsed by the Commanding Officer of the unit, might come from witnessing officers. Sometimes, a higher level may ask for recommendations after a successful operation to distribute a quota, such as the New Year’s list for meritorious awards. Citations were published in the London Gazette3, and later the Canadian Gazette, which are official public government journals recording decrees, proclamations, decorations and awards, including promotions and appointments of military officers. To be ‘Mentioned in Despatches’ meant your name was printed in an official report by a superior officer about a specific event or action to higher authority. This entry may be reprinted in the Gazettes.
In the articles to follow, we’ll look at some examples from the First World War service of the Decorated Fallen of the Okanagan.
1] https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-differences-in-these-words-valor-courage-spunk-bravery-gallantry-and-mettle [accessed March 23, 2022]
1] Descriptions of Canadian Medals and Decorations see: https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/medals-decorations
2] Decorations for Bravery see: https://www.gg.ca/en/honours/canadian-honours/directory-honours
3] Canadian Medals Chart see: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/services/medals/medals-chart-index.html