In my time in Duncan, I’ve often wondered who Charles Hoey was.
I’ve been to Charles Hoey Park in downtown Duncan many times over the last year and a half, covering a wide variety of stories ranging from homeless tent cities to music festivals.
But the man the beautiful little park in Duncan’s downtown was named after was a mystery to me until recently.
I was at the park’s cenotaph last month when aging members of the Cowichan Valley’s Royal Canadian Legion Branch 53, fully dressed in their military attire and covered in medals, gathered to remember the local soldiers who never came home from past wars.
I was informed by the old and proud warriors at the ceremony that thousands of people from the Valley fought in both world wars and other conflicts Canada has been involved with around the world over the years.
Many didn’t make it back and their names are proudly displayed on the cenotaph in Charles Hoey Park.
Among those names is Charles Hoey himself and his story of bravery and self sacrifice blew me away when I first heard it.
First of all, Major Charles Hoey is the only soldier from the Valley to receive the Victoria Cross, the British Empire’s highest award for bravery under fire.
In fact, Hoey’s Victoria Cross was one of only 100 awarded among the millions of men and women who served in the Commonwealth armed forces during the Second World War.
He received this rare honour for his selfless acts of bravery in battle while in Asia in February, 1944.
Hoey’s company formed a part of a force which was ordered to capture a position in Burma from the Japanese at all costs.
After a night march through enemy-held territory, the force was met at the foot of the position by heavy machine-gun fire.
Hoey personally led his company under continued heavy fire right up to the objective.
Although wounded at least twice in the leg and head, he seized a Bren gun from one of his men and, firing from the hip, led his company on to the objective.
In spite of his wounds, the company had difficulty keeping up with him, and Hoey reached the enemy strong post first, where he killed all the occupants before being mortally wounded himself.
What reserves of bravery and dedication did Charles Hoey have to put himself into such peril in an effort to save his men and take out the enemy?
I tend to think that if I was faced with a similar situation, I probably wouldn’t be the first person out of the trench to attack the enemy position.
I suspect that, more likely, I’d be the one at the bottom of the trench with my hands over my head trying not to wet my pants.
One has to wonder if Hoey was a secret superman who lived quietly in the Valley until his special powers were called upon to save the world from evil.
But, more likely, I think he was probably little different before the war from the hard working farmers, loggers and fishermen he shared the Valley with at the time.
I’ve heard some veterans say that the stresses and experiences of battle can change a person, and they can sometimes do things that they wouldn’t have imagined they could do before they went to war.
I can only hope that, faced with a similar situation, I would exhibit the same kind of bravery that Hoey did that earned him a Victoria Cross.
But I suspect there may be a reason why only 100 people out of millions of Commonwealth troops who fought in the Second World War were considered worthy of such an honour.
Hoey must have been a very special person indeed.