Gone, but not forgotten.
That’s what comes to David Currie’s mind when he thinks of his late-grandfather, a simple and ordinary man from Sutherland, Sask. that was his happiest when cutting the lawn.
But 74 years earlier, a group of men remember David Vivian Currie as a heroic and brave soldier.
In August 1944, Canadian soldiers were on the offensive in St. Lambert-sur-Dives, France to cut off an escape route for German forces in the waning weeks of the Second World War.
After leading a group of tanks and infantry into the French village, Currie and his troops fortified themselves and fended off German attacks for a day-and-a-half.
When the battle was over, Canadians destroyed seven enemy tanks, 12 artillery guns and 40 vehicles, leading to the deaths of 300 German soldiers, another 500 wounded and 2,100 captured.
It is remembered by war historians as a battle that secured victory for Allied forces in the Battle of Normandy.
“This is part of the success of what’s known as the Allied victory at Salles,” Canadian War Museum CEO Mark O’Neill said. “This brings an end to the Normandy campaign.”
“This is a huge turning point in the war.”
Currie was awarded a Victoria Cross, the highest military award available in the British Commonwealth.
It was the only Victoria Cross awarded during the entire Normandy campaign and one of 16 Victoria Crosses awarded to Canadians who served in the Second World War.
It’s the only Victoria Cross given to a member of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps.
Last August, British auction company Dix Noonan Webb put up the Victoria Medal set for auction, eventually going for a price of £550,000, a little over $916,000 Canadian dollars.
The news was a surprise to the Currie family.
The medals were secretly sold to the auction house in 1989 by Curries widow, three years after his death.
David’s sister was browsing her grandfather’s Wikipedia page and saw plans to auction his medals.
“My sister was Wikipedia-ing my grandfather’s name and was reading through some of his history again and found out his medals were going to be sold,” David said.
“Once we found out (the medals) were sold to a foreign buyer, it was really hurtful to the family to know that his medals could be leaving the country.”
That’s when the Currie family went into action.
They started last December by sending letters — to MP’s, senators and even the Prime Minister’s office.
The Canadian War Museum was in on the bidding but was outbid by a prominent English buyer.
A chance at keeping the medal on Canadian soil wasn’t lost.
Export review processes put in place for artifacts meant the Victoria Cross would be set aside for a period of time to allow for institutions in Canada to purchase the medal back.
“We were quite sure that although the medal set had been purchased by a non-Canadian, that eventually it would be set aside and we would successfully acquire the medal set for Canadians and that’s what happened,” O’Neill said.
The undisclosed amount paid was raised by the museum, federal programs and donations from families of the North Saskatchewan Regiment.
The role private donors played in keeping the medals in Canada is not lost on the Currie family.
“It was very touching to hear that people had that attachment to my grandfather’s story and his Victoria Cross,” David said. “People still care about those stories.”
There are endless stories of admiration towards Currie’s bravery. One of those stories was penned in a letter to the Canadian War Museum by a soldier’s widow.
“Thank you for acquiring this medal set,” the letter read. “My late-husband kept a photograph of Lt.-Col. David Currie on the wall until the day he died.”
When David got the call that the medal had been acquired by the museum, he was overwhelmed.
“It was important for us to know that this piece of our heritage and Canadian culture would not leave the country,” he said. “We felt that it was important that future generations could go to the war museum, see his picture and read his story.”
After his military career was over, Currie served as the Sergeant at Arms at the House of Commons from 1960 to 1978.
“He went back to civilian life, had a wonderful career and in perhaps typical Canadian fashion, downplayed for the rest of his life, his heroism in the Battle of Normandy,” said O’Neill. “It’s a wonderful Canadian military history story.”
Part of that story is the man behind the accolades.
David and his sisters grew up a block away from their grandfather.
They were always aware of the stories, but remember Currie as the man who fixed their bike chains and drove them when Mom and Dad couldn’t.
“We knew the story behind his Victoria Cross, but for us as his grandchildren, he was more than that. He was our grandfather,” David said.
David isn’t sure what his grandfather would think of how the medal went on display, but he knows one thing.
“I think he’d be proud, I think he’d be happy to know his medal is going to stay in Canada forever,” he said.
“He put it humbly, he said he had a job to do, he went, he did his job and he came home. That’s the kind of man my grandfather was. If you would have met him, you would never expect the story behind what had happened. It’s just hard to explain how humble he was and how quiet he was.”
The medals aren’t the only things Currie has in the Museum either. He became an avid painter in retirement and would go on to donate four original paintings of the historic Normandy battle to the war museum.
A mechanic at heart, Currie might best be described by how he spent his final days working on his 1977 Ford Meteor.
“The night before he passed away, the floor had rotted out of his car. At the age of 74, he had all the seats out of his car and he was going to replace the car in his floor,” he said. “We used to call it the green boat. It must have been 25 feet long.”
David Currie is gone, but thanks to the efforts of the Canadian War Museum and a contingent of private donors, his story will never be forgotten.