A Victoria Cross and eight other medals awarded to a Saskatchewan soldier were auctioned in the U.K. on Wednesday, and sold for $550,000 Cdn.
The Victoria Cross was awarded to Lt.-Col. David Currie during the Second World War. The nine-medal grouping was auctioned by Dix Noonan Webb in London.
Additionally, a 20 per cent buyer's premium was charged for the collection. According to the auction house, the private buyer from the United Kingdom, who was not identified by name due to auction privacy protocol, will pay $660,000 Cdn when the auction house's commission is added.
The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa confirmed that it participated in the auction, but was outbid.
The Department of Canadian Heritage can deny the British buyer an export permit, under the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, if it determines that the Victoria Cross is cultural property of outstanding significance and national importance. A Canadian institution could be given an opportunity to buy the medal.
A history lesson
The Victoria Cross is the highest military award of the United Kingdom and has also been awarded to members of Commonwealth countries for "gallantry in the face of the enemy."
"They are an award for bravery when you have made a choice, despite tremendous odds against you, that you will not be defeated and you will overcome every task at hand," said Tanya Ursual, a military antiquarian who was handling the sale.
"The Victoria Cross is the thing movies are made of, except this is a real story."
Currie was born in Sutherland, Sask., in July 1912. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry during the 1944 Battle of Normandy, when he was a major in the Canadian Army. He was the only Canadian to receive the medal in the Normandy campaign.
His widow sold the medal to a private buyer in 1989.
She said her client knew Currie and had the utmost respect for him. He decided to approach the Currie family and make an offer for the grouping.
"It is exceptionally rare, in that of the 181 Victoria Crosses awarded during World War II, only 16 of those were awarded to Canadians," Ursual said. "Of the 16, four were for British units and those are on display in England.
"Currie's is the last group for sale in Canada that is not on public display," she said.
War medal controversy
Recently, Currie's grandson and his wife contacted Ursual to ask if they could hold the medals and her client readily agreed, she said.
She said the grandson didn't seem to have any ill will about the sale.
"He didn't seem to be upset about it at all. Obviously, he hopes they find a great home," Ursual said.
Ursual said Currie's grandson said his grandmother is 105 years old and her care is supported to this day by the sale of the medals.
While the Currie family might be OK with the sale of the medals, it has been a contentious issue. The curator of the Saskatchewan Military Museum in Regina said he was shocked to hear the medals were being sold at auction, rather than donated.
Retired major Keith Inches doesn't want the Victoria Cross to be removed from Canada.
"We should be showing it to our young people as an inspiration," Inches told CBC News. "There's lots of stories of heroism in Europe. They don't need another one from us."
"Military medals in this country remain private property," Ursual said. "Anyone who receives medals, or their family members, can still sell them.
"I understand that people are emotional about medals, and some people find the selling of military medals distasteful."
In the U.S., it is illegal to sell the highest military medals. Ursual said such a law would be a bad idea in Canada, because she worries that future family members would think the medals are worthless.
She said it could also spur an underground economy and might prohibit military museums from purchasing medals for display.