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Filip Konowal, V.C.

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Lubomyr Y. Luciuk and Ron Sorobey

The Kashtan Press, 1996

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Sergeant Filip Konowal, The Victoria Cross
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Icon French Language Version of this Page (en Franais, )
Icon Ukrainian Language Version of this Page (en Ukrainien, KOI-8U)

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Filip Konowal, V.C.
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Filip Konowal, a Ukrainian Canadian volunteer serving as a corporal with the 47th Canadian Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, fought with exceptional valour in August 1917 during the battle for Hill 70, near Lens, France. For his courage Konowal was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration of the British Empire, by King George V, in London, on 15 October 1917. His Majesty remarked:

After being hospitalized in England, Konowal was officially assigned for a time as an assistant to the military attache of the Russian Embassy in London. Later he was transferred to the 1st Canadian Reserve Battalion, served with the Canadian Forestry Corps and eventually with the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force. He returned to Vancouver on 20 June 1919, after soldiered for three years and 357 days in the ranks of the Canadian Army, one of as many as 10,000 Ukrainian Canadians who had so served. Ironically they did so at the same time as many of their compatriots were being unjustly interned and otherwise censured as "enemy aliens" during Canada's first national internment operations of 1914-1920. As the M.P. for Edmonton East, Mr. H.A. Mackie, wrote to Prime Minister Robert L. Borden, on 16 October 1918:

Honourably discharged, Konowal was subsequently troubled by medical and other problems, most thought to be a consequence of his war wounds. Nevertheless, by 1928, he had begun to rebuild his life. He enlisted in the Ottawa-based Governor General's Foot Guards. He re-married in 1934, taking for his second wife a widow, Juliette Leduc-Auger. (His first wife, Anna, and their daughter, Maria, were lost in Ukraine during the Stalinist terror.) Thanks to the intervention of another Victoria Cross winner, and also a member of the Governor General's Foot Guards, Major Milton Fowler Gregg, Seargeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons (1934-44), Konowal found employment as a junior caretaker in the House of Commons, a humble job, but, in the years of the Great Depression, a welcome one. Spotted washing floors of the Parliament building by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, Konowal was reassigned as the special custodian of Room No. 16, the Prime Minister's office, a post he held until his death. While others might bemoan Konowal's apparently low employment status, the man himself was much more sanguine. As Austin F. Cross reported, in The Ottawa Citizen on 16 June 1956, when Konowal was asked about being a janitor he laughingly remarked, "I mopped up overseas with a rifle, and here I must mop up with a mop". He also revealed something that was not recorded in the official account of how he won his Victoria Cross:

Konowal was again acknowledged for his valour during the 1939 Royal Tour when His Majesty King George VI shook his hand during the dedication of the National War Memorial, in Ottawa. He also kept in touch with his wartime comrades, even attempting to fight for Canada during the Second World War, an impossibility given his age.

On 20 December 1945, Konowal joined the Hull, Quebec, branch of The Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League, recording on his application for membership that he had been born on 15 September 1888 [in Kudkiv, Ukraine], had been wounded in the war, was receiving a disability allowance and working as a cleaner in the House of Commons. Required to state why he was discharged he wrote simply, "War was finish". [4]

In 1953, Toronto's Royal Canadian Legion Branch 360 voted to make Konowal its patron, which was officially confirmed during a Remembrance Day dinner held in Toronto on 7 November. And Konowal received yet another distinction when he participated in a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the institution of the Victoria Cross, held in London in 1956. Too poor to travel to England on his own resources -- even though Ottawa offered to cover the actual transportation costs -- Konowal turned to his fellow Ukrainian Canadian veterans for help. With the financial assistance of Ukrainian Canadian branches of The Royal Canadian Legion he was able to go overseas. On 17 May 1956 he wrote to the president of Branch 360, Mr. Stephen Pawluk, to thank all those who helped make that trip possible:

On 25 June 1956 Konowal joined 300 other Victoria Cross winners from around the world at a formal tea party at Westminster Hall hosted by the British Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden. On 26 June he participated in a march-past at Hyde Park, reviewed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, followed by an afternoon garden party. In a photograph taken at the time Konowal is shown at centre of the front rank of Canadian Victoria Cross winners, a hero among heroes.

Filip Konowal died on 3 June 1959, aged 72. His Victoria Cross and other medals were entrusted to Mr. G.R. Bohdan Panchuk, a Ukrainian Canadian veteran who had served with the R.C.A.F. during the Second World War and had become a leading member of the Ukrainian Canadian Veteran's Association. These medals were eventually acquired by the Canadian War Museum, where they remain to this day. [6] Konowal was buried from the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church, with full military honours by his regiment, in Lot 502, Section A, at the Notre Dame Cemetary, in Ottawa. His wife, who died at age 86, was buried beside him on 3 March 1987.

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Konowal's grave was marked with a simple
tablet. Then the man, and his remarkable story,
were all but forgotten.
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In 1995, Lieutenant (retd) Ron Sorobey, of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, began research on Konowal's military record and life. [7] Later he began working with Tony Pidkalenko, other individuals and groups, whose collective efforts ensured that Konowal's story was commemorated in a timely and honourable manner. A wreath-laying ceremony, organized by the Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Association of Ottawa, involving representatives of The Governor General's Foot Guards, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, The Royal Canadian Legion and the Government of Ukraine, was held at Konowal's grave on 6 December 1995, Ukrainian Armed Forces Day. An upright grave marker, identifying Konowal as a Victoria Cross recipient, was placed in the Notre Dame Cemetary by Veterans Affairs Canada. Trilingual historical plaques honouring Konowal were unveiled across Canada, first in the Cartier Square Drill Hall of The Governor General's Foot Guards in Ottawa (15 July 1996), then at The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 360 in Toronto (21 August 1996) and eventually in New Westminster, British Columbia.

In English, French and Ukrainian the plaques read:

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[1] His Majesty King George V is quoted in the Ukrainian Canadian Veteran's Association Newsletter, Nos. 11-12, Volume 2, November-December 1954, Ottawa, edited by G.R.B. Panchuk. A copy is located in "The Paul Yuzyk Papers" at the National Archives of Canada, Ottawa.

[2] For H.A. Mackie's letter to R.L. Borden see Document No. 10 in Kordan and Luciuk, eds, A Delicate and Difficult Question, 36-41.

[3] See "VC Winner Was Almost Shot As A Deserter", by Austin F. Cross, The Ottawa Citizen, 16 June 1956, 2.

[4] See Corporal Philip Konowal, V.C. "Application for Membership In The Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League", the original of which is on display at Branch 30 of The Royal Canadian Legion, 135 rue Eddy, Hull, Quebec.

[5] See F. Konowal to S. Pawluk, 17 May 1956, "The Stephen Pawluk Papers", National Archives of Canada, Ottawa.

[6] On 8 December 1995 the secretary of The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association, Mrs. D. Grahame, wrote that Corporal Konowal's Victoria Cross "is held by the Canadian War Museum". However, it may be that the museum does not own Konowal's medal. In a letter to Dr. L. Luciuk, 3 May 1996, Mr. D. Glenney, the museum's Director, Collections and Research, reported: "I must also inform you of some unfortunate news. The Victoria Cross shown is a replica... The Canadian War Museum acquired Konowal's medals from an Ottawa dealer in 1969. They were displayed until 1972, and later put in storage. Our records indicate that at some point between 1972 and 1974, the Victoria Cross was listed as missing. However, our early records are sketchy; the medals are not described in detail as to engraving. It is possible that we may never had received the original. An exhaustive search of our records at my request this winter failed to shed any new light on the situation. We are continuing to investigate the issue of this important Victoria Cross, to determine once and for all if the original was ever acquired, and if so, what happened to it".

[7] Various attempts have been made to honour Konowal. See, for example, Michael Petrowsky, "New Canadian War Hero Presented To King", The New Canadian, Volume III, No. 5, June 1939, 9; "Philip Konoval: Holder of the Victoria Cross", UCVA News Letter, Volume II, Nos. 11-12, 1954, Toronto, 3, 12 and Lubomyr Luciuk, "More Recognition for Konowal Urged", Ukrainian Echo, Toronto, 17 December 1980.

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A hero among heroes.
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Little is known about Konowal's early life in Ukraine. His father owned a stone-cutting business in the village of Kudkiv, Podolia province, located on the Zbruch river, which formed the boundary line between the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. At age 21 Konowal was conscripted into the Imperial Russian Army. Although slight of build he became an instructor in close-quarters combat. After five years of military service Konowal emigrated to Canada through Vladivostok, arriving in Vancouver in April 1913, finding work as a lumberjack. After a few months in western Canada, he moved to eastern Ontario and found forestry work in the Ottawa Valley. Like many other Ukrainian Canadians, Konowal enlisted, in his case on 12 July 1915, with Ottawa's 77th Canadian Infantry Battalion. After ten months training, near Ottawa and Valcartier, he shipped overseas on 19 June 1916 aboard the SS Messanabie, which docked in Liverpool on the night of 28-29 June 1916. During a six-week layover at the Bramshott Camp a large number of men from the 77th Battalion were reassigned to the 47th Canadian (British Columbia) Infantry Battalion, Konowal among them. He was appointed to the rank of Lance Corporal shortly thereafter. With the men of his new unit Konowal embarked for France on 10 August 1916. He went into combat as part of the 4th Canadian Division in the early fall, 1916, during what would become known as the Battle of the Somme. He also took part in the spring offensive at Vimy Ridge and was appointed an acting corporal on 6 April 1917. By the summer of that year the Canadian army was redeployed further north, toward the German-held town of Lens, France. It was there, at the battle for Hill 70, that Konowal would exhibit the military virtues for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The 47th Canadian Infantry Battalion is today perpetuated by The Royal Westminster Regiment, in New Westminster, British Columbia. The 77th Canadian Infantry Battalion is perpetuated by The Governor General's Foot Guards, in Ottawa.

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Meeting His Majesty King George VI,
Ottawa, 1939
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Filip Konowal's War Record
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Filip Konowal's War Record
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Left to Right:
The Victoria Cross; British War Medal, 1914-1920;
George VI Coronation Medal, 1937; Elizabeth II
Coronation Medal, 1952.

Konowal was also entitled to the Cross of St. George,
4th Class, from Russia. Not Shown.

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Copyright © 1996 Lubomyr Y. Luciuk and Ron Sorobey

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data
Luciuk, Lubomyr Y., 1953-

Text in English, French and Ukrainian.
ISBN 1-896354-12-2

1. Konowal, Filip, 1888-1959. 2. Victoria Cross. 3. Ukrainian Canadian -- Biography. 4. Canada. Canadian Army. Canadian Expeditionary Force. Battalion, 47th -- Biography. I. Sorobey, Ron II. Royal Canadian Legion. Branch 360. III. Title

U55.K66L83 1996 355.1'342'092 C96-900568-7E

Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk teaches political geography in the Department of Politics and Economics at the Royal Military College of Canada, in Kingston.

Mr. Ron Sorobey is a trade policy analyst for Revenue Canada, (Customs) in Ottawa.

Published for The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 360 by The Kashtan Press, Kingston/Kyiv (1996).

Cover Illustration:
Seargent F. Konowal, The Victoria Cross; nd
Author: Major Ambrose McEvoy (1878-1927)
Oil on Canvass
102.0 X 76.5 cm.
Courtesy of the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Canada (#8430).

Graphic Design, Gerald Locklin & Associates, Kingston, Ontario

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The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 360 (Konowal Branch) which made this booklet possible. Special thanks are due to Marta Horban-Carynnyk and Marco Carynnyk for their translations of the English text into French and Ukrainian; The Canadian War Museum; Mr. Paul Charydczak; Dr. Yvan Gagnon, Mr. Jerry Gangur, president, Royal Westminster Regimental Association; Mrs. D. Grahame, M.V.O., Secretary, The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association; Mr. J.B. Gregorovich, president, The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 360 (Konowal Branch); Ms. Patricia Grimshaw; Mr. Mykola Kulyk (Tresurer, Branch 360); Mr. Marian Lach, president of the The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 183 (Mazeppa Branch); Major General (retd) Robert LaRose (Honourary Lieutenant Colonel, Governor General's Foot Guards); Mr. Roy Lisogar; Mr. Gerald Locklin; Dr. Jack Pike, Mr. Jerry Pohorecky (Secretary, Branch 360); Mr. Myron, Momryk (National Archives of Canada); Mrs. Olha Pawluk for permission to make use of the Konowal materials in the "Stephan Pawluk Papers" at the National Archives of Canada; Mr. Wayne Ramsay (Senior Policy Development Officer, Commemorations, Veteran Affairs Canada); Mrs. Julia Stashuk; Mr. Myroslav Trutiak (MST Bronze Ltd.); the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association; the Ukrainian Canadian Congress; the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko and the Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Association of Ottawa.

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Originally Composed: Monday September 16th 1996.
Date last modified: Saturday May 16th 1998.