Filip Konowal

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Filip Konowal
Filip Konowal VC.jpg
Born 15 September 1888
Kutkivtsi, Ukraine
Died 3 June 1959 (aged 70)
Hull, Quebec
Allegiance  Russian Empire
 Canada
Years of service 1909 - 1913 (Russia)
1915 – 1919 (Canada)
Rank Sergeant
Unit 77th Canadian Infantry Battalion
47th (British Columbia) Battalion Canadian Infantry
1st Canadian Reserve Battalion
Canadian Forestry Corps
Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force
Governor General's Foot Guards
Battles/wars World War I
*Battle of Hill 70
Awards Victoria Cross
Cross of St George, 4th Class
Other work special custodian in the Office of the Prime Minister

Filip Konowal VC (15 September 1888 – 3 June 1959) was a highly decorated Ukrainian Canadian soldier. He is the only Ukrainian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy given to British and Commonwealth forces. He was also entitled to the Cross of St George, 4th Class.

He is the patron of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 360 (Konowal Branch) in Toronto.

First World War[edit]

Konowal was born 15 September 1888 in Kutkivtsi, Ukraine, in the Russian Empire and went on to serve in the Imperial Russian Army. Konowal was 28 years old, and an Acting Corporal in the 47th (British Columbia) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. During the period 22–24 August 1917, at the Battle of Hill 70 in Lens, France, he performed an act of bravery for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.[1]

Citation[edit]

The citation was published in a supplement to the London Gazette of 23 November 1917 (dated 26 November 1917):[2]

No. 144039 A./Cpl. Filip Konowal, Can. Inf.

For most conspicuous bravery and leadership when in charge of a section in attack. His section had the difficult task of mopping up cellars, craters and machine-gun emplacements. Under his able direction all resistance was overcome successfully, and heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy. In one cellar he himself bayonetted three enemy and attacked single-handed seven others in a crater, killing them all.

On reaching the objective, a machine-gun was holding up the right flank, causing many casualties. Cpl. Konowal rushed forward and entered the emplacement, killed the crew, and brought the gun back to our lines.

The next day he again attacked single-handed another machine-gun emplacement, killed three of the crew, and destroyed the gun and emplacement with explosives.

This non-commissioned officer alone killed at least sixteen of the enemy, and during the two days' actual fighting carried on continuously his good work until severely wounded.

Honours[edit]

Filip Konowal's standard Commonwealth War Graves Commission gravestone, adjacent to his wife Juliette's family monument. It is inscribed "Filip Konowal V·C / Corporal / 47 Battn C·E·F / 3 June 1959 Age 72", with a simple Christian cross above and the Victoria Cross below.

Konowal's Victoria Cross medal was personally presented by King George V, and he was promoted to sergeant.

He was also awarded the British War Medal (1914–1920), Victory Medal (1914–1919), George VI Coronation Medal (1937), Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953), and entitled to the Cross of St George, 4th Class, from Russia.

The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 360 (Konowal Branch) in Toronto made him its patron in 1953. The Legion helped established the Konowal Prize, an annual scholarship grant at the Royal Military College of Canada.

Konowal died in 1959 at Hull, Quebec, aged 72. He was buried at Notre Dame de Lourdes Cemetery, Ottawa, under a headstone in section A, lot 502.

In 1996 Konowal's headstone was replaced by an upright marker, and memorial plaques were unveiled:

Portrait commissioned for the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art

The Victoria Cross decoration[edit]

Konowal's medals at the Canadian War Museum. From the left: the Victoria Cross, British War Medal, Victory Medal, George VI Coronation Medal, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal

The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa purchased Konowal's Victoria Cross and other medals in 1969.

The decoration went missing sometime in the 1970s, apparently stolen, and was sold to an antique shop along with some Hawaiian coins in the mid-1990s. The shop owner believed the decoration was a fake, as it was inscribed with "For Valour" – evidently not realizing that all VCs awarded to Canadians had the English motto. (The source of confusion was the fact that a new Canadian VC was introduced into the Canadian Honours System in 1993, bearing the Latin motto Pro Valore). The decoration was rediscovered when the shop owner offered it to the Jeffrey Hoare Auction House in London, Ontario in April 2004. A British collector discovered the auction and notified Lubomyr Luciuk, co-author of a booklet about Konowal, who took steps to have the decoration secured.[4] It was recovered by police, and returned to permanent display at the War Museum on 23 August 2004, 87 years after it was awarded.

Trial[edit]

On 19 July 1919, Konowal accompanied Leontiy Diedek, a friend and fellow veteran, to a particularly rough area in Hull, Quebec. The two men went for dinner at a restaurant; Diedek left early in order to look at some bicycles at the home of William Artich, an 'Austrian' bootlegger and bicycle salesman. Konowal became aware of a commotion and went to investigate. A fight had started between Artich and Diedek. By the time Konowal arrived, Diedek had been viciously beaten and Artich was armed with a knife. Konowal managed to gain control over the weapon and killed Artich with a single stab to the chest.[5][6]

Konowal did not attempt to flee the scene; when police came, the First World War veteran stated, "I've killed fifty-two of them, that makes the fifty-third." Veterans rallied around his cause and raised enough money to bail Konowal in October 1919; the trial ended up being postponed three times, finally beginning in 1921. After extensive tests, it was discovered that Konowal was suffering from serious medical problems stemming from war wounds: pressure on his brain was increasing and his condition was continually deteriorating. Medical experts unanimously agreed that a wartime gunshot wound to the head was likely making Konowal mentally unstable; the jury agreed and he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Konowal was institutionalized for seven years. By the end of this period, his condition had improved dramatically. Unfortunately, tragedy struck once again when Konowal attempted to contact his family in Soviet Ukraine: his wife had died during the Soviet famine of 1932–1933 (the Holodomor) and his daughter was nowhere to be found.[5][6][7]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Stewart, Charles H.: Overseas - The Linages and Insignia of the Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919, page 25. Little & Stewart Publishing, 1970.
  2. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30400. p. 12329. 23 November 1917. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
  3. ^ Filip Konowal plaque
  4. ^ Lubomyr Luciuk, "The prodigal medal returns", in Ukrainian Weekly.
  5. ^ a b The Toronto World newspaper article, 21 July 1919
  6. ^ a b PDF: Filip Konowal, VC: The Rebirth of a Canadian Hero by Ron Sorobey
  7. ^ Ottawa Citizen, 21 July 1919, p. 5.

References[edit]

External links[edit]