HEROES HONOURED AT HILL 70

14.04.17


Canadians, Ukrainians and French nationals assembled on a bright and sunny spring day on 8 April in Loos-en-Gohelle, France, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the World War I battle of Hill 70.

The ceremony took place in the small amphitheatre at Hill 70 at the foot of a newly erected tall obelisk which now stands in silent commemoration of a most horrific encounter and great sacrifices during the First World War. 

The memorial stands on a former battlefield (in Loos-en-Gohelle). It pays tribute to the more than 9,000 Canadian soldiers who became casualties during the 10 days of fighting at Hill 70 and Lens, from August 15 to 25, 1917. Canadians played a key role in this particular battle by seizing the trenches around Hill 70 in a pre-dawn assault. The attack, which was to relieve pressure on allied forces at Passchendaele and to seize a high point of land, known as Hill 70, near the city of Lens was among Canada’s most significant contributions to the First World War. Six Canadian soldiers earned the Victoria Cross in recognition of their most exceptional bravery displayed in the presence of the enemy.

For the Ukrainian contingent present, the day had an added significance with a special walkway also being officially opened in honour of Corporal Filip Konowal - the only Ukrainian ever to receive the Victoria Cross. Konowal was involved in the battles of the Somme, Vimy Ridge and, in August 1917, at Hill 70 where he singlehandedly stormed two machine gun positions. 

Among the large number of dignitaries who had come to pay their respects were the Governor General and Commander in Chief of Canada, David Johnston; Prefect of Pas-de-Calais, Fabien Sudry; Mayor of Loos-en-Gohelle, Jean-François Caron; Minister of National Defence, Harjit Singh Sajjan; Ambassador of France to Canada, Nicolas Chapuis; Ambassador of Ukraine to France, Oleh Shamshur, General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff; Mark Hutchings, Chair of the Hill 70 Memorial; Ukraine’s Defence Attache, Oleh Semenikhin; author of “A Canadian Hero Corporal Filip Konowal VC and the battle of Hill 70”, Lubomyr Luciuk; representative of the Ukrainian Canadian Veterans Fund, Roman Kulyk and AUGB Chairman, Petro Rewko.

The ceremony was opened with a guard of honour and military band. During proceedings, each of the distinguished guests paid their respects to the gallant service personnel who had taken part in the Hill 70 battle which helped significantly to bring an end to the Great War some 12 months later. 

There were designated wreaths for each of the six servicemen who had been awarded the Victoria Cross for their gallantry in the battle for Hill 70. Konowal’s wreath was placed by the Ukrainian Ambassador and Defence Attaché.

Mark Hutchings, Chairman of The Hill 70 Memorial Project, thanked all those who had contributed towards the creation of an everlasting memory to those who had fought, captured and held Hill 70 from the advancing German army. 

Later, a small reception was held at Loos-en-Gohelle City Hall for all dignitaries.

Speaking with the Ukrainian Ambassador and Defence Attaché, we all remarked on how very honoured and proud we all felt to have been a part of the day’s ceremony. Ambassador Shamshur added that that unknown Ukrainian heroes, such as Filip Konowal, who had left their homeland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for a better life but ended up fighting for their respective adopted nations during The Great War, deserved high recognition not only in the countries in which they settled, but also in their native homeland, Ukraine.

As Chairman of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain I would like to thank the Canadian Authorities for their very kind invitation. It was truly a privilege to have taken part in the ceremony opening the commemorative walkway in memory of Filip Konowal and to have been able to honour all of those great heroes of their day who were prepared to sacrifice their lives so that we may be free today.

Petro Rewko
AUGB Chairman

 



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