As part of its commemoration of the Great War, the British government unveiled a memorial to Victoria Cross winners who were born in other countries.
That includes Commonwealth countries and, in some cases, places that weren’t even countries during the First World War.
It’s a companion to the memorial to British Victoria Cross winners: a small plaque in the birthplace of every person who received the highest British decoration for gallantry.
There’s just a problem with two of the recipients.
Two Newfoundlanders received the Victoria Cross during the war. John Croak received the decoration for an action in which he was killed on August 8, 1918:
For most conspicuous bravery in attack when having become separated from his section he encountered a machine gun nest, which he bombed and silenced, taking the gun and crew prisoners. Shortly afterwards he was severely wounded, but refused to desist. Having re-joined his platoon, a very strong point, containing several machine guns, was encountered. Private Croak, however, seeing an opportunity, dashed forward alone and was almost immediately followed by the remainder of the platoon in a brilliant charge. He was the first to arrive at the trench line, into which he led his men, capturing three machine guns and bayonetting or capturing the entire garrison. The perseverance and valour of this gallant soldier,who was again severely wounded, and died of his wounds, were an inspiring example to all.
Croak served with the Canadian Army.
The other Newfoundland-born recipient was Thomas Ricketts. He was the youngest person ever to receive the award.
The citation read:
During the advance from Ledgehem (Belgium) the attack was temporarily held up by heavy hostile fire, and the platoon to which he belonged suffered severe casualties from the fire of a battery at point blank range. Private Ricketts at once volunteered to go forward with his Section Commander and a Lewis gun to attempt to outflank the battery. They advanced by short rushes while subject to severe fire from enemy machine guns.
When 300 yards away, their ammunition gave out. The enemy, seeing an opportunity to get their field guns away, began to bring up their gun teams. Private Ricketts at once realized the situation. He doubled back 100 yards, procured some ammunition and dashed back to the Lewis gun, and by very accurate fire drove the enemy and their gun teams into a farm. His platoon then advanced without casualties, and captured four field guns, four machine guns and eight prisoners. A fifth field gun was subsequently intercepted by fire and captured. By his presence of mind in anticipating the enemy intention and his utter disregard for personal safety, Private Ricketts secured the further supplies of ammunition which directly resulted in these important captures and undoubtedly saved many lives.
Ricketts served with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
The problem is that the British memorial has erased the country in which the two men were born. They were Canadians, according to the official British government sources, even though Newfoundland was a self-governing dominion at the time with the same status as Canada, India, and the other dominions.
The British mistake doesn’t just insult the Victoria Cross recipients. Nor does it just insult the people of Newfoundland and Labrador by blacking out a very important portion of their history. The British mistake erases entirely a very important part of its own history.
What a terrible shame.