b. 10/10/1887 Ayr, Scotland. d. 20/01/1968 Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Robert Shankland (1887-1968) was born on 10th October 1887 at 6 Gordon Terrace, Ayr, Scotland. His father, William Shankland, was born at Durisdeer, Dumfriesshire. He was a stonebreaker and then worked for the Glasgow & South Western Railway Company for about 40 years. He married Jane Russel McCririck in 1883. She was a housemaid domestic working for Patrick Boswell and family, in Old Cumnock in 1881. Robert had a sister, Janet Wilson Shankland, born two years before Robert.
Robert was educated at Smith’s Institution and Russell Street School in Ayr and was a member of 2nd Ayr (Parish Church) Company, Boys’ Brigade. He was employed as a clerk in the accountant’s office of John T Scott, Newmarket Street, Ayr for two years then worked as a clerk at Ayr Railway Station for seven years. Robert was initiated into Ayr St Paul’s Freemason Lodge on 2nd August 1909. He emigrated to Canada in 1910, where he was an assistant cashier with the Crescent Creamery Co, Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was also secretary-treasurer of the Junior Board of Trade in Winnipeg and at one time managed the Carleton Club. Robert also served in the Militia with 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada.
On 18th December 1914 he enlisted in A Company, 43rd Battalion CEF at Minto Street Barracks, Winnipeg. He was rapidly promoted to Lance Corporal, Corporal and Sergeant. He sailed with the Battalion on 1st June 1915 on SS Grampian, landing in England on 10th June 1915. He was promoted to Company Sergeant Major at Shorncliffe, Kent on 14th October. He sailed for France on 20th February 1916. He was awarded the DCM for his actions at Sanctuary Wood, near Ypres in June 1916, when he volunteered to lead a party of stretcher bearers to bring in wounded and partially buried men under heavy shellfire.
He was appointed Regimental Sergeant Major and was commissioned as a temporary Lieutenant on 27th December 1916. He was promoted to Lieutenant in February 1917. On 20th June 1917, he was appointed Temporary Captain.
Having gained a position at Passchendaele on 26th October 1917, Lieutenant Shankland organised the remnants of his own platoon and other men from various companies to command the foreground where they inflicted heavy casualties on the retreating Germans. He later dissipated a counter-attack, allowing for the arrival of support troops. He then communicated to his HQ a detailed evaluation of the brigade frontage. On its completion he rejoined his command, carrying on until relieved. His courage and his example undoubtedly saved a critical situation.
During the action he was slightly wounded by a gunshot to the back and was treated at No 3 Australian Casualty Clearing Station, returning to duty on 28th October. He was wounded multiple times on 11th November and was treated finally at 1st British Red Cross Hospital at Le Touquet until 13th November. He didn’t rejoin the Battalion until 7th December, before a period of leave back to the UK saw him receive the Freedom of the Royal Borough of Ayr on 31st December. During this leave, he was with his parents when the announcement of the VC was given.
He was appointed Adjutant on 28th January 1918 and was promoted to Captain on 25th February. He was granted leave to UK from 21st September to 5th October, extended to 9th October to attend his VC investiture. It was presented to him by King George V at York Cottage, Sandringham on 6th October 1918. He returned to England in February 1919 and sailed for Canada, arriving in Ottawa on 25th March. He was demobbed the following month, but remained in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada.
Robert returned to Britain and married Anna Stobo Haining at St Nicholas Parish Church, Prestwick, Ayrshire on 20th April 1920. They sailed for Canada on 1st May and settled in Springfield, Manitoba. He attended the VC Dinner at the House of Lords on 9th November 1929. Robert joined the Canadian Scottish Regiment in Victoria before moving to Vancouver in 1937, where he was appointed secretary of Hall Securities. He was a keen sportsman, playing baseball. He was one of six VCs presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in the Royal Tour of Canada in June 1939 in Vancouver. He and Anna had two children – William and David.
At the outbreak of WWII, he was recalled to the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada in Winnipeg. He was promoted to Major in January 1940 and was posted to England with the Battalion as OC HQ Company. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and appointed Camp Commandant at Canadian Army HQ in December 1940. He was discharged in 1946 and returned to his position with Hall Securites in Vancouver. He was a life member of the Royal Canadian Legion, and belonged to Fourandex, a war veterans’ association in Vancouver. He attended the 1956 VC Centenary Celebrations in Hyde Park, and the 4th VC & GC Association Reunion at the Café Royal, London in July 1964.
Robert died at Shaughnessy Hospital, Vancouver on 20th January 1968. He was cremated at Mountain View Crematorium, Vancouver and his ashes were reportedly scattered in the Garden of Remembrance of Mountain View Cemetery, but the cemetery has no record of this. An unconfirmed report says they were scattered at sea. In addition to the VC and DCM he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal 1939-45 with Maple Leaf clasp, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. The medals were passed to his son, David, and subsequently to his son. The medals were purchased by the Canadian War Museum at Bonham’s, Toronto on 25th May 2009 for CAD$288,000. They were briefly loaned to Manitoba Museum, Winnipeg in October 2010.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: MANITOBA MUSEUM, WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: MOUNTAIN VIEW CEMETERY, VANCOUVER, CANADA. (CREMATED).
Robert Shankland VC, DCM's medals on display at the Manitoba Museum, Winnipeg (October 2014).
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Ayr, Scotland (Stephen Wagstaff)