Case study

WW1 Canadian VC recipient Raphael Louis Zengel

The story of Canadian First World War Victoria Cross recipient Raphael Louis Zengel.

Raphael Louis Zengel
Credit: National Defence Canada

70 men from Canada received the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, during the First World War. As part of the Centenary Commemorations the people of the United Kingdom marked their gratitude to those courageous men by presenting a bronze memorial plaque to their home country engraved with their names. The plaque is now displayed at the British High Commission Ottawa. This archive tells their stories

Name: Raphael Louis Zengel

DOB: 11 November 1894

Place of Birth: Faribault, Minnesota, USA

Date of Action: 9 August 1918

Place of Action: near Amiens, France

Rank: Sergeant

Regiment: 5th Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force

Raphael Zengel was born in 1894 in Minnesota, USA, but he moved when young to Saskatchewan, Canada, with his mother. In December 1914, whilst working as a farmer he enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and served with the 5th Infantry Battalion. Zengel received the Military Medal for his actions during a raid on German trenches near Passchendaele in Belgium in 1917.

Sergeant Zengel was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 9 August 1918 whilst leading his platoon during the major offensive around Amiens in France. His citation reads:

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when protecting the battalion right flank. He was leading his platoon gallantly forward to the attack, but had not gone far when he realised that a gap had occurred on his flank, and than an enemy machine gun was firing at close range into the advancing line. Grasping the situation, he rushed forward some 200 yards ahead of the platoon, attacked the machine-gun emplacement, killed the officer and operator of the gun, and dispersed the crew. By his boldness and prompt action he undoubtedly saved the lives of many of his comrades.Later, when the battalion was held up by very heavy machine-gun fire, he displayed much tactical skill and directed his fire with destructive results. Shortly afterwards he was rendered unconscious for a few minutes by an enemy shell, but on recovering consciousness he at once continued to direct harassing fire on the enemy. Sjt. Zengel’s work throughout the attack was excellent, and his utter disregard for personal safety, and the confidence he inspired in all ranks, greatly assisted in bringing the attack to a successful end.

Sergeant Zengel returned to Canada, and spent most of his life living in Rocky Mountain House town in Alberta. He died in 1977. A mountain in Jasper National Park is named in his honour.

Published 20 June 2016