UK buyer bids $550,000 for historic Currie Victoria Cross at auction | Ottawa Citizen canada géna uk

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UK buyer bids $550,000 for historic Currie Victoria Cross at auction

Blair Crawford, Ottawa Citizen
More from Blair Crawford, Ottawa Citizen Published on: September 27, 2017 | Last Updated: September 27, 2017 8:43 PM EDT

A private buyer from the United Kingdom had the winning bid for a Canadian Victoria Cross awarded to Lt.-Col. David Currie during the bitter fighting in Normandy in 1944. Tony Caldwell

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The private UK collector who paid $550,000 for the Victoria Cross awarded to Canadian Lt. Col. David Currie during the Second World War has plans to take the medal out of Canada.

The unnamed buyer bought Currie’s VC and an assortment of other medals and memorabilia on Wednesday at a public sale at London auction house Dix Noonan Webb. They buyer must also pay a 20 per cent seller’s commission, pushing the total price to $660,000. 

The Canadian War Museum took part in the Wednesday’s auction.

“We participated in the auction, but we were not the successful bidder,” said Yasmine Mingay, director of public affairs for the museum.

The auction house said Wednesday the buyer intends to apply for a Canadian Cultural Property Export Permit, which is needed before the medals would be allowed to leave Canada.

The medals are currently in a bank safety deposit box in Kemptville in the care of Tanya Ursual, an antiquities dealer who acted as the auction house’s Canadian representative.

“The buyer is a private UK-based collector. That tells me it’s not a museum,” Ursual said. “If it’s a private collector, my guess is they’re going to stay quiet about it.”

Currie, of Sutherland, Sask., was a major in the the 29th Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (The South Alberta Regiment), when he landed in France a few weeks after the D-Day invasion. In August 1944, Allied forces had encircled tens of thousands of German soldiers in an area known as the Falaise Pocket. Currie was given a handful of tanks and supporting infantry and ordered to seal a gap in the Allied lines to cut off the Germans’ escape.

The Canadians held the line, killing and wounding 800 enemy soldiers and taking 2,100 more prisoner.

“Throughout three days and nights of fierce fighting, Major Currie’s gallant conduct and contempt for danger set a magnificent example to all ranks of the force under his command,” his Victoria Cross citation read.

A famous photograph of Currie, pistol in hand, with captured German soldiers was described by historian C.P. Stacey “as close as we are ever likely to come to a photograph of a man winning the Victoria Cross.”

Currie was the only Canadian to earn a VC in the D-Day and Normandy campaigns and one of only 12 Canadians so honoured during the Second World War. The simple bronze cross on a purple ribbon is the Commonwealth’s highest honour for gallantry in battle.

Currie was later named Sergeant of Arms of the House of Commons by prime minister John Diefenbaker. 

Currie died in Ottawa in 1986. In 1989, his widow, Isabel, sold the VC to a private collector in Canada. That collector cared for them until this summer when he decided to put it up for auction.

Once the export permit is applied for, the Department of Canadian Heritage will set a period of between two and six months in which a Canadian buyer or institution will have a chance to buy the medals. If no one does, the buyer will be allowed to take the medals outside Canada.

“In that time it becomes incumbent upon them to find a Canadian buyer who is prepared to pay that price,” Ursual said.

Currie’s grandson, also named David Currie, watched the auction live on the internet. He said Wednesday that he was disappointed the medals were sold to someone outside the country but is hopeful they might still stay in Canada if the export permit is denied.

bcrawford@postmedia.com

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