Leo Clarke never met his uncle but, as his namesake, he has known Cpl. Lionel Clarke all his life.
Along with a group of family members, Leo Clarke looked on Wednesday as the Victoria Cross medals awarded to his uncle, Sgt.-Maj. Frederick William Hall and Lt. Robert Shankland for their heroic service during the First World War were officially handed off to the Victoria Crosses of Valour Road Exhibit at the Manitoba Museum.
The three Victoria Cross medals, awarded to the "Pine Street boys," all three of whom lived on the same 700-block of the same West End Winnipeg street, are now on display under strict security in the foyer of the Manitoba Museum until the end of Veterans Week on Nov. 14. Pine Street was renamed Valour Road in 1925 by the city.
Tuesday was 100 years to the day on which Canada declared war on Germany in the First World War.
"I was named after him so it carried a great responsibility, one I am proud to carry and tried to always honour it," said Leo Clarke, 86, whose father Charlie was Lionel's brother. Charlie also served in the First World War. "My name is actually Lionel but no one ever called me that, except my mother when she was mad.
"I wish my dad was here now. For so many years, it was just Dad and I and the family going down to the little plaque (on Valour Road). Now it's going to be shared with so many people, it's quite a thing, really. Dad would have been very pleased."
The Victoria Crosses of Valour Road Exhibit is on loan from the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, which acquired the three medals 2009 to 2012 as artifacts of great significance to Canadian heritage.
During Wednesday's transfer ceremony, there was a spectacular show by an honour guard of soldiers drawn from the ranks of the successor units (the Governor General's Foot Guards of Ottawa, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, and the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada) to the original units with which the three Valour Road Victoria Cross recipients served. The soldiers marched, presented arms and were inspected by Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee.
"To have these medals available to be seen by everyone close to their homes and to see this recognition, for us in the serving military, it's pretty awe-inspiring to hear the stories and be reminded of just how much the soldiers before us have given," said Lt. John Makela, who was recognized Wednesday for being awarded the Medal of Military Valour in 2007 for his valiant actions in Afghanistan. He singlehandedly thwarted a suicide bomber car and saved everyone in his convoy. He is a member of the Governor General's Foot Guards, which represented Lionel Clarke's former 2nd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force.
The three "Pine Street boys" were each awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour, for separate actions of "the most conspicuous bravery, a daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty, in the presence of the enemy."
"Soldiers do what their countries ask them to do. When Hall, Shankland and Clarke joined, their countries were already at war. They knew they were going to war, they just didn't know what they were getting into and how bad it would be," said Maj.-Gen. Dennis Tabbernor (Ret.), of the Royal Military Institute of Manitoba. He is the exhibit co-chair with Manitoba Museum exhibits manager Hanna Peters.
"They volunteered to serve their country and by happenstance, they ended up in some very terrible places and did some great things, heroic things," said Tabbernor, who served nearly 44 years in the Canadian military. He received the Order of Military Merit-Commander (CMM) in 2009. "We're hoping this will raise the profile of Clarke, Hall and Shankland and what they did, especially among youngsters. I hope teachers and classes, everyone, will come down here and see it."
The Victoria Crosses of Valour Road Exhibit can be viewed free of charge in the Manitoba Museum foyer.