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1945: Fred Tilston wins Victoria Cross for attack in Germany

The Story

March 1, 1945: The Hochwald Forest in Germany is the scene of an incredible act of Canadian bravery. In his first and last attack as commander of 'C' Company of the Essex Scottish Regiment, Maj. Frederick Tilston acts more like an action hero than an officer. After a 500-metre dash behind a barrage of artillery shells and through a belt of wire three metres deep, Tilston leaps into the enemy trenches. Firing his Sten gun from his hip, Tilston clears the trench and then races toward the forest. He clears out a machine gun post using a hand grenade, and leads his remaining men into hand-to-hand combat. Tilston has been wounded in the head and the hip, yet he consolidates his troops and holds the position against counterattack. Six times he makes an insane dash to a neighbouring company to get more bullets and grenades for his men. On his last trip, Tilston is hit in the other leg and crumples to the ground. When medics finally arrive, his only words are, "We held." Days later, as he recuperates in an English military hospital, Maj. Tilston hears he will be awarded the Victoria Cross for valour. In this interview from the hospital, Tilston tells CBC Radio about his experiences since that day in Hochwald.

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: March 23, 1945
Guest: Maj. Frederick Tilston
Duration: 2:53

Did You know?

• The Canadian 2nd Army's assault on the heavily-fortified Hochwald Forest defence line helped the Allies win the forest and a route across the Rhine. Tanks were to have led the assault, but the ground was too soft.

• Three-quarters of Tilston's company were killed or wounded in the assault. Maj. Tilston himself refused medical attention until he had given complete defence plan instructions to his only remaining officer. Tilston's wounds were so severe that he had both legs amputated after the assault.

• Frederick Tilston was born in Toronto, Ont. on June 11, 1906. He was sales manager of a drug manufacturing company until he enlisted as a private in 1940. Because of his age, education and experience, Tilston was quickly promoted. Exactly one year after the Hochwald assault, Tilston returned to Toronto and became vice-president in charge of sales for his former company. He died on Sept. 23, 1992.

• The Victoria Cross is the highest decoration that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces "for gallantry in the face of the enemy." It was created in 1856 after the Crimean War.

• Watch a silent British Pathé newsreel showing Tilston, in a wheelchair, outside a London hospital.

• Ninety Canadians have won Victoria Crosses. Only two have been awarded to Canadians since Tilston's: another in Germany three weeks later, and one in Japan in August 1945. It is estimated that the odds of surviving the kind of encounter that earns a Victoria Cross are one in ten.

• About half of Canada's Victoria Crosses were awarded posthumously.

Also on March 1:
1633: Samuel de Champlain is appointed the first governor of New France.
1927: The British Privy Council awards Labrador to Newfoundland over a claim from Quebec, which still does not recognize the decision.
1973: Vancouver's Karen Magnussen wins the world women's figure skating title in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia.



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