Lieutenant Vincent McCarter Eastwood was a young University of Toronto student aged 19 years and 3 months when he enlisted with the 93rd Battalion at Peterborough, Ontario. His uncle, a medical doctor, signed his attestation papers certifying his medical fitness for duty with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. His father, Vincent Senior, was the Royal Bank Manager at the branch located at 610 George Street. From the tone of his letters, so diligently transcribed by his Great-Grandson Michael Ritchie, one gets the sense of the times and the man. Lt. Eastwood is educated and articulate and his letters display his family’s solid foundation in Canadian middle-class society. He is stolidly handsome, almost rough hewn and evoking images of a younger Samuel Steele of the Mounties.
He was also brave and an effective leader.
He earned a Military Cross and a battlefield commission where he became a captain and Company Commander, not small feat for a then 20-year and 9-month old. He was a seasoned soldier of the Battalion and his Military Cross citation (May 26, 1917) relates in minimal detail how he came to earn this medal.
Sadly, the exact raid to which this citation refers to has not been positively identified, but there is no doubt that his actions represent that of an officer that led from the front and set an example or emulated and reflected the martial spirit of his unit as they carried out a hazardous raid.
A local paper expanded on this:
V.M. EASTWOOD MILITARY CROSS
Went Into the Hun Trenches and Bombed His Way Along Front Line.
The Canada Gazette of Saturday has the following extract from the London Gazette of May 4th:
His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to confer the Military Cross on the undermentioned officers and warrant officers in recognition of their gallantry and devotion to duty in the field:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of a raiding party. He carried out several valuable reconnaissances previous to the raid. During the operations, he, with a few men, entered the enemy’s trenches, personally shot two of the enemy, and bombed his way along their front line, inflicting several casualties before withdrawing.
Lieut. Eastwood went overseas with the 93rd and his military career has been brilliant. The news that he had won the Military Cross reached this city some time ago but no details were given until the official announcement quoted above, was made. In a letter to his father, Mr. Eastwood of the Royal Bank, the young man in mentioning the distinction that had been given him, modestly said it was for “a stunt pulled on in a raid” [of which he led.]
Source: Reddit Post. Image on file.
In a letter to his father, dated April 18, 1917 he relates:
“My Military Cross just came through yesterday for a stunt on a raid. Have put up the ribbon and it is a terribly loud colour.”
Of course, the newspaper did not print the detail about how garish looking the young lieutenant felt about his medal.
It is an interesting statement of a man who was obviously brave and capable to diminish his valour in such a way to a family member. In part an attempt to minimize the risk of the action in which he earned the medal and a symbolic reflection on the value of such “trinkets” that were issued when he probably felt so many other deserved a similar distinction? One gets a sense that Lieutenant Eastwood would prefer a democratized method of awarding soldiers for distinguished service in combat because the medal is not an appropriate delineation of the sacrifices of the soldiers that served with him. The medal is “terribly loud in colour,” much like a boorish party guest. Unwanted and not like the other guests. He was a leader of his men and such displays of singular recognition may not have sat well with his leadership philosophy. As we can see in the picture below he appears connected to the “other ranks” in a personal caring way. The role of an officer was one of leadership and not a distinction of class apart from his men. He was one of them and their leader.
The medal exists. Saved by his family for others to see and share. And though we cannot know the man. This son of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, we can reflect on his service and his writing and make some sense of his war.