WWII Victoria Cross winner remembered
Published Sunday, March 25, 2007 6:50PM EDT
A Canadian Second World War hero was honoured in Etobicoke, Ont. on Sunday by his family, friends and comrades in arms.
Corporal Frederick George Topham passed away in 1974 and rests at the Sanctuary Park Cemetery. He is one of only 95 Canadians to have received the Victoria Cross.
A plaque in his honour was presented to Topham's family on Sunday by his former battalion during a ceremony attended by about 100 people.
The plaque explains why Topham was awarded the nation's highest honour for valour and directs visitors to his gravesite.
"As we dedicate this plaque today, (it helps) us remember his selfless service, may we be motivated to look beyond our own needs and look to that of others," Cpt. Rev. Craig Cameron said Sunday.
The Victoria Cross was awarded to Topham for valour during "Operation Varsity" in France in Feb. 1945. As a member of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and a 27-year-old medical orderly, Topham parachuted into enemy-held territory.
On March 24, 1945, he was treating casualties who were injured during a parachute drop. A cry for help came from a wounded man in the open during an intense battle. Two orderlies went out to help and were killed while treating the wounded soldier.
Topham ran out into the open to take over their jobs. He was shot in the nose while trying to help the wounded soldier.
Despite his injury, intense pain and severe bleeding, Topham dressed the wounds of the soldier and brought him to safety. Refusing treatment for his own wound, Topham kept helping wounded soldiers, bringing them to safety.
Even after receiving treatment, Topham ventured back into the fighting to help more of his comrades. In one instance he pulled trapped soldiers from a burning truck that was carrying weapons, all while under fire and in grave danger.
Topham's citation, which was written in The London Gazette in 1945 and is reprinted on the Veteran's Affairs Canada website, said he "showed sustained gallantry of the highest order."
"For six hours, most of the time in great pain, he performed a series of acts of outstanding bravery, and his magnificent and selfless courage inspired all those who witnessed it," the citation read.
Despite the high honours, Topham's family said he was modest about his heroism during the war.
"He was embarrassed for all this fuss about winning the Victoria Cross because he believed that anybody would have done what he did," Topham's nephew Michael Durant said after Sunday's ceremony.
Four years ago, Topham's medal was put up for sale due to problems with his will. The medal attracted an offer of more than $300,000 from a British collector.
Topham's family said if a Canadian could raise $275,000, they would sell it to keep the medal in Canada.
A campaign raised $300,000 in donations from across Canada. All but $25,000 went to Topham's family. The rest was used for a memorial for the parachute battalion.
Topham's Victoria Cross and other service medals were presented to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, where they are now displayed.
Jan de Vries was one of the people who spearheaded the fundraising campaign. He would like to see similar plaques placed for all Canadian Victoria Cross winners.
"So that the Canadians can learn about how many good men we have," de Vries said.
With a report from CTV's Roger Petersen