b. 08/07/1912 Sutherland, Saskatchewan, Canada. d. 20/06/1986 Ottawa, Canada.
David Vivian Currie (1912-1986) was born in Sutherland, Saskatchewan, Canada on 8th 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 24th 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 19th 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”.
Major Currie’s Victoria Cross was announced in the London Gazette of 27th November 1944, by which time the squadron that he was commanding had advanced as far as Holland. He was quickly rushed to London, hitching a ride across the English Channel on a motor torpedo boat, receiving his V.C. from the hands of the King at an investiture at Buckingham Palace on 30th November, still dressed in his battle dress, scuffed shoes and tank overalls. Following the investiture he was given extended leave and returned to Toronto, where he was reunited with his wife and son who he had not seen for three years. The ‘shy and retiring’ Currie was much in demand by the press during this period.
After the war Currie worked for eight years in Baie Comeau, Quebec as an equipment superintendent at a paper company, before moving to Montreal in 1953 to work for a manufacturing company of which he became vice-president. In 1959 Prime Minister John Diefenbaker appointed him Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons, in which role he remained until 1978 and was also Vice-Chairman (overseas) of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association from 1968 until the time of his death. The gallant Currie died in Ottawa on 20th June 1986, aged 73, leaving behind him his wife of more than 50 years, Isabel, a son, David and a daughter, Brenda. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Owen Sound, Ontario.
In 1989, Currie’s medal group was sold by his wife Isabel to a private collector. On 27th September 2017, the medal group was put up for auction at Dix Noonan Webb. The medal group was sold for a hammer price of CAN $550,000 (£331,682) to a private buyer. Owing to difficulties in obtaining a Cultural Property Export Permit to take the Lieutenant Colonel David Currie Victoria Cross group out of Canada the overseas purchaser came to an agreement with the Canadian War Museum for them to acquire the medal group.
The Canadian War Museum were able to purchase the David Currie VC group with the support of the Movable Cultural Properety Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the museum's National Collection Fund and contributions from the Brownlee Family Fund along with honorary members of the North Saskatchewan Regiment. They are now on display at the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM, OTTAWA.
BURIAL PLACE: GREENWOOD CEMETERY, OWEN SOUND, CANADA.
Union Jack Club
Owen Sound, Ontario
Images of Currie's medals and the reverse of his VC are courtesy of Pierce Noonan of Dix Noonan Webb