Captain O’Kelly’s Victoria Cross: A Northwestern Ontario Connection

By Captain George J. Romick, OStJ, CD2

Captain Christopher Patrick John O’Kelly, VC, MC, was born in Winnipeg in 1895. He won his Victoria Cross (“For Valour’) at the battle of Passchendaele, Belgium in 1917. Though Winnipeg may claim him as its native son, Northwestern Ontario has a reason to share in a part of that acclaim. O’Kelly’s connection to this region is significant. He served in a unit, the 52nd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) which was raised in Port Arthur. His Victoria Cross (VC) and Military Cross (MC) make him the most remembered and honoured of the men of the 52nd. Demobilized in Port Arthur in 1919, he spent time after the war prospecting in the Red Lake region, where he met an untimely death on Lac Seul in 1922. Memorials in his name can be found in Red Lake and on Goose Island, as well as in Port Arthur. This is the story of Captain O’Kelly’s war.
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Sgt. Charles Byce DCM, MM

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Charles Byce, shown at age 24, was the only member of his regiment – the Lake Superior Regiment – to earn both the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal. He displayed fearless leadership in winning both gallantry awards. (Charles Byce)

Considering his father’s overseas exploits, one would think fate had chosen Charles Henry Byce to be a military hero. His mother, Louisa Saylors, a Cree from Moose Factory, Ontario, had married Henry Byce, a non-Native from Westmeath. When Charles was born in 1917 in Chapleau, the First World War was still raging, and his father was fighting in Europe, meriting two decorations for valour: the DCM plus France’s Medaille militaire. Two decades later, 23-year-old Charles Byce joined the Lake Superior Regiment (Motor) – the “Lake Sups” – and began a remarkable journey, practically tracing his father’s path. When it was over, Byce had become the only man in his regiment to earn both the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and the Military Medal (MM).63

Byce earned his first decoration for valour – the MM – in the Netherlands in January 1945. By that time, the Allies had established themselves in France and Belgium and, in another month, would launch an offensive for a final push over the Rhine into Germany.

Before dawn on January 21, Acting Corporal Byce and 23 other Lake Sups set off in row-boats to cross the Maas River. Their mission was to sneak behind enemy lines and bring back German prisoners so information on enemy units could be gathered. Byce headed a five-man team charged with providing cover for the reconnaissance group.

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