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Plaques honour Valour Road's war heroes

Three men won the Victoria Cross

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They were so young a century ago, the three of them walking the same block of the West End, some of those new houses they walked past still standing today, the horror of the trenches not even a dark shadow on the horizon.

Those three men are forever linked.

Frederick Hall, Leo Clarke and Robert Shankland all lived in the 700 block of Pine Street.

There is no Pine Street now -- in 1925 it was renamed Valour Road, and Sunday afternoon, a respectful and sombre crowd gathered to honour their memories yet again.

Hall, Clarke and Shankland all received the Victoria Cross in the First World War.

On Sunday, the three were remembered by aging veterans, multiple generations of descendants, young cadets and kids from nearby Clifton School quietly playing The Maple Leaf Forever.

In the memorial plaza built a few years ago at Valour Road and Sargent Avenue, they all quietly watched the unveiling of four plaques mounted on huge stones to commemorate the three men and the Victoria Cross.

Only Shankland survived the war.

"This is believed to be the only street in the world that had three Victoria Cross winners live on it," said Hugh O'Donnell, secretary of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada Association.

Three generations of Clarkes came to honour the soldiers.

"I was named after him," said patriarch Leo Clarke, whose father Charlie served in the trenches close to where his brother Leo died a few weeks after performing incredible feats in battle.

For many years, the family would go to the plaque at Portage Avenue and Valour on Remembrance Day.

"We used to be down there at the plaque by ourselves every year," Clarke recalled.

Then a principal named Mr. Oliver at Isaac Brock School decided during the Second World War that the children should all attend, he said.

Now that one plaque has been joined by the memorial plaza on Sargent, by a mural and by signs along Valour Road. People in the West End now come to Sargent and Valour on Nov. 11.

"Around about 400 to 500 people gather here," said Clarke, whose family has donated his uncle's medal to the Canadian War Museum.

"I was a little bit young in the last war -- I tried," said Clarke. He went to the recruiting office on Osborne Street, but a soldier who knew his dad recognized him and promptly ordered him home.

Clarke's son, Paul Leo Clarke, grew up hearing stories about his late great-uncle.

"From my dad, it was the story we grew up with," he said. "We used to go to the Remembrance Day ceremonies and walk with the veterans.

"Certainly, these kids are not forgetting," said the younger Clarke, indicating his children.

Justice Minister Andrew Swan, the local MLA, singled out Clifton School teacher Antonio di Geronimo for the work he's done to encourage students to remember the soldiers.

"He's the type of teacher you hope every student gets at least once," Swan said. "Sometimes you hear the despair out there that young people don't care.

"Here in the West End of Winnipeg, we certainly will remember them."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 28, 2012 B3

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