Valour Road – Three Winnipeg VC Winners on the same street

Valour RoadValour Road

John Nadler has written a wonderful book.

His short bio from Amazon.com informs us he “is a Canadian author, journalist, and feature writer who has lived in Europe for the last two decades. He is also the author of two previous books, Searching for Sofia and A Perfect Hell. As a journalist, Nadler has contributed to Time, Sports Illustrated, Variety, Daily Telegraph of London, the European, Budapest Week, Maclean’s, the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and Postmedia News. While in Europe, he served as the Postmedia correspondent during the Kosovo conflict (1998 and 1999), the NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia (1999), and the Serbian revolution in 2001, experiences that provided the material for Searching for Sofia. He currently lives in Budapest with his wife and son.

Here is John Nadler in his own words.

About ten years ago, I finished a book project entitled A Perfect Hell. The book was about the storied WWII Canadian-American commando unit, the Black Devils, but really the project was my attempt to come to terms with Second World War, my parents’ war.

Valour Road, a book I started to research three years ago, was my attempt to come to terms with our grandparents’ war — the Great War. We all have a sense of what the First World War was with its enduring images of trenches, relentless artillery, and desperate charges. Valour Road is the story of three young men (Leo Clarke, Fred Hall, and Robert Shankland) who sprung from the same cluster of houses on Pine Street, Winnipeg, enlisted in the war, and at different times and in separate circumstances achieved the Victoria Cross — the empire’s highest decoration for bravery. Initially I began this project to try to understand why. How is it that three extraordinary heroes could spring from this same street, let alone city?

Ultimately I learned that Pine Street (renamed Valour Road in 1925) was truly an exceptional place, and exactly as exceptional as thousands of other neighbourhoods and communities across Canada at that time. Valour Road, I learned, is the story of three men who typified the bravery and commitment of many if not most of the 620,000 Canadians who were mobilized between 1914 and 1918.

As I wrote Valour Road, I was struck by many things. I marvelled at the perseverance of the men who volunteered to fight in the face of horrors (new-age weaponry like heavy artillery and the machine gun, poison gas, killing meted out on an industrial scale) never before experienced on the battlefield. And I marvelled how our country was able to endure in the face of the tremendous loss of life — the death of 67,000 men and wounding of 173,000 that amounted to an astonishing 39 percent casualty rate, a body count more akin to a plague than a conflict.

But I learned in researching Valour Road that the strength of family kept the country together both during and after the Great War. The story of the Valour Road heroes Clarke, Shankland, and Hall is really the tale of families, and so it is not surprising that I owe this book to the descendants of these men. After the war, Leo Clarke’s brother Charlie, who served with Leo in the trenches before dying at the Somme, returned to Winnipeg, and devoted his life to keeping the Valour Road legacy alive. Today, Valour Road’s memory is nurtured by Charlie’s sons, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, who gather in this neighbourhood every November 11 to remember Leo, Fred, and Robert, and the thousands of others who answered the call during the Great War and every war that has followed it.

Both the Clarke and Hall family shared letters, diaries, and lore with me, allowing me to tell a story that has never been told before — how three ordinary men from the most ordinary of streets in Canada met the challenge of the Great War, and became so extraordinary their stories echo a century later.

John Nadler pictureJohn nadler pic

John Nadler`s books are available on Amazon.

Valour Road; The Story of Three Victoria Cross Winners from the same street in Winnipeg. By John Nadler.  Viking – Penguin Canada: 2014.

A glimpse of PTSD in one of Canada`s World War One VC Hero`s?

John Nadler follows three young men from Winnipeg who enlist in the Canadian Army in WW1. Driven by kinship and support of the Empire they joined over half a million men from Canada who served in the Great War for Civilization. Unknown to them at the time – they all live on the same street in Winnipeg.

We see the rush of patriotism, cheering crowds serenading them  to the train station, hopeful war rallies and family pride for the men in uniform. Too soon the news from France and Flanders brings tears.  All three men face the battlefields of Northern France in and around Ypres Belgium, a short car trip today from the famous Vimy Ridge. We see them become masters of war, especially the men of the 2nd Canadian Battalion where the story of Leo Clarke and his brother Charlie unfolds. Leo`s brother arrives first  and then his brother Leo wins a transfer to the same battalion and the brothers look out for each other in ferocious battles. They become so good at what they do they both end up in a part of the unit known as the Bombers, or grenadiers on the front lines on many battles. They were engaged in work that can only be called beyond dangerous and they are rewarded with promotions for their work and German firestorms for the extremely high quality of it. The family link keeps coming back throughout their story. Leo Clarke wins the Victoria Cross for extreme heroism then checks out of a field hospital prematurely before he has recovered from wounds to be with his brother and their fighting friends. Random chance strikes all and it strikes the brothers, one of whom is jotting down notes that come into play years after filling out what it was like to be a Canadian soldier operating in extremely dangerous warfare. Leo Clarke may have met his end due to trying to avoid perception of weakness, swinging the lead, or malingering. This is just an insight almost 100 years after the incident but serves as a map to why soldiers may sometimes make bad choices in their treatment. The reader can only balance their experience with the story as presented in Nadler`s work and then draw their own conclusions.

Fred Hall, Winnipeg resident and ex British soldier swiftly rose to a leadership position in Winnipeg`s 8th Battalion, The Little Black Devils. His unit was among the first to encounter the use of gas and massed industrial scale warfare on the Western Front. His previous experience shines through as he helps his fellow soldiers make sense out of what is going on and he leads from the front at all times. He loses his life trying to save a fellow soldier.

Robert Shankland, born in Scotland, arrives on the scene as his unit has to capture a piece of ground in a driving storm of cold rain and enemy fire. Through luck and observation he he figures out how to get on top of the hill before the enemy can react. He turns what was looking like a disaster into a memorable victory on the road to Passchendaele.

It may seem trite but this story brings out what we have seen time after time about our Canadian Servicemen. Once bonded together in a cohesive unit – they are a formidable fighting force.

This book will endure.  It brings early 20th century Canadian history to life with its thoughtful and charming look at where these men came from and what they saw before summer 1914. Military historians will see a kaleidoscope WW1 history as a seamless whole, these men stride across the history of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914-1918. Finally we see the families who are left behind with nothing but cherished memories of sons who live on in the wind of the Canadian Prairies. But these families, like their sons losing friends in battle had to quickly move on in a postwar world – Leo Clarke`s brother, Fred Hall`s  relatives and Robert Shankland  all carry with them the hopes of Canadians into the future and the history books.