17 August 2017
A unique Victoria Cross and other awards won by one of the greatest heroes in Canadian history is to be auctioned by Dix Noonan Webb, the international coins, medals and jewellery specialists, in London on 27 September 2017. The VC won by Lieutenant Colonel David Currie is unique to the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps, the only one awarded to a Canadian soldier for the 1944 Normandy campaign and the only Second World War VC to a member of a Canadian unit not already on public display in Canada. The group of awards is expected to fetch CAD500,000 to CAD600,000 (£305,000 to £367,000) in the auction of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria.
Although the auction will take place in London, bidding will be conducted in Canadian dollars. The Victoria Cross and other medals awarded to Currie remain in Canada, where they have been since the present owner bought them privately from Currie’s widow Isabel in 1989. If the successful bidder wishes to take them out of Canada they will have to apply for a cultural property export permit.
“David Currie showed astonishing courage and coolness throughout a ferocious three day battle during which he and his small Canadian force were the only troops blocking the escape of two German armies from a huge Allied pincer movement,” says Tanya Ursual, Dix Noonan Webb’s representative in Canada. “He never allowed the possibility of defeat to enter either his own mind or those of his men and his gallantry allowed the Allies to cut off and capture large numbers of German troops. His VC is one of the hardest-won decorations ever awarded to a Canadian.”
David Currie was born in Sutherland, Saskatchewan in July 1912 and educated at King George Public School, the Central Collegiate and Moose Jaw Technical School, serving in the Moose Jaw Cadet Corps from 1926 to 1928 and working as a mechanic and welder from 1930 until the outbreak of the Second World War.
In 1939 Currie joined the Militia, transferring to the Regular Army as a Lieutenant the following year. Regular promotions followed and by the time that he landed in Normandy on 24 July 1944 he was a Major commanding ‘C’ Squadron, South Alberta Regiment, a reconnaissance unit of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps. Despite a later confidential report which described him as “rather shy and retiring”, he was to prove an inspirational leader in battle.
His unit was tasked with helping to destroy two German armies which were being pushed into a bottleneck in Normandy known as the Falaise Gap by the tightening circle of Allied forces. By 19 August the encirclement was almost complete with the only escape route being between the villages of Chambois and Trun and between these was the hamlet of St Lambert-sur-Dives through which the Germans were retreating. Currie and his men were ordered to take St Lambert and thus cut off the escape route of this huge German force.
Currie’s 75-strong squadron accompanied by 55 Canadian infantrymen were initially rebuffed by the Germans but they launched a further attack at first light the following morning which got into the village and led to a day of bitter fighting. Currie recalled: “At one point late in the afternoon the tanks were running around in circles firing (machine guns) to keep the Germans from climbing on top of them”. The following day the German attacks began to intensify and Currie had a narrow escape when two of his officers were killed by a shell standing in a place that he had just left to get into his tank. This meant that all his officers had now been killed or wounded.
That evening the Canadians saw that the Germans were preparing for another major assault and Currie’s eight tanks opened fire inflicting huge casualties. Overall during the battle his small force killed 300 Germans, wounded 500 and took the surrender of 2,100 in addition to destroying seven enemy tanks, 12 of the much feared 88mm guns and 40 other vehicles. St Lambert was held, Currie’s force was relieved, the Falaise Gap was closed and the Allies won the most decisive victory of the Normandy campaign. Currie said afterwards: “I know that there is much to fear in war, but, to me, the greatest fear was the possibility that I might not measure up to that which had been asked of me.”
Currie had certainly measured up. The citation for his VC mentioned the fact that at one point he reconnoitred the village on foot alone, that he used a rifle from his tank turret to deal with German snipers who had infiltrated to within 50 yards of his headquarters and that when a small group of reinforcements withdrew under intense enemy fire, he personally led them forward into position again. At one point he ordered Allied artillery to keep firing despite the fact that some of their rounds were falling within 15 yards of his own tank. This was, said the citation, “typical of his cool calculation of the risks involved in every situation”.
Only 181 awards of the VC and one Bar were made during the Second World War, of which 16 were awarded to Canadians. Of these 16 only 12 were given to members of Canadian units, 11 of which are on public display in Canada – Currie’s being the only exception. The other four awards went to Canadians serving with British units and three of these are on public display in England. Currie was the only member of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps to win the VC and the only Canadian to win the VC during the Normandy campaign.
After the war Currie worked in Quebec before being appointed Sergeant-at-Arms of the Canadian House of Commons in 1959, remaining in this role until 1978. He died in Ottawa on 20 June 1986 aged 73 and is buried in Owen Sound, Ontario.
Currie’s decorations and medals consist of: Victoria Cross, 1939-45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Overseas Service Bar, War Medal 1939-45, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953, Canadian Centennial Medal 1967 and Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal 1977. They are being sold with an archive of documents, photographs and newspaper cuttings.
Currie newsreel links
Dix Noonan Webb Ltd is one of the world’s leading specialist auctioneers and valuers of coins, tokens, medals, militaria, paper money and jewellery. Established in 1990, the company boasts over 250 years' combined experience in this field and stages regular auctions throughout the year.
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Telephone: 044 (0)7770 694254
Dix Noonan Webb
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London W1J 8BQ
Telephone: 044 (0)20 7016 1700.
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Telephone: 001 613 258 5999.