Remembering Cowichan’s most prominent war hero
Harry Wilkinson first met Duncan’s Major Charles Hoey in 1943 during the sweaty hell of Burma’s Arakan campaign in which more soldiers died of malaria and dysentry than Japanese bullets.
“Charles impressed me as being very unassuming and down-to-earth,” remembers Wilkinson. “He always had a kind word for me.”
At that meeting, Wilkinson was a lieutenant in the 71st Infantry Brigade (Indian Army) while Hoey was a company commander of the First Lincolnshire Regiment.
“I called myself the office boy and I hated it,” said Wilkinson. “But for the war, I never would have met Charles Hoey and never would have come to Duncan.”
Wilkinson sipped tea and swapped war stories Wednesday with members of Duncan’s Branch 53 Royal Canadian Legion.
Wilkinson, 77, was in town meeting organizers of the planned Charles Hoey Seniors Lodge on Bundock Avenue which will see some 27 suites available to low-income seniors.
Construction on the $1.87 million complex, spearheaded by the Legion, will begin this summer. It will be the second building named after Hoey who is said to be the only Cowichan resident to win a Victoria Cross from the Second World War.
Charles Hoey School in Duncan also honors the local native.
Not long after Wilkinson and Hoey met, Hoey led some 40 soldiers behind enemy lines during a night raid at Maungdar which Wilkinson says was “very hush-hush.”
“They brought back documents and photos from dead Japanese,” Wilkinson said. “I thought, ‘This is the enemy? They have families too.’”
The top-secret raid landed Hoey a Military Cross and Hoey and Wilkinson became closer acquaintances. “I got to know him better after he won the Military Cross,” Wilkinson said.
But Hoey wasn’t through winning medals.
“The Victoria Cross was awarded to Charles posthumously in February of 1944,” said Wilkinson, who related how Hoey qualified for the honour.
“During the second Arakan campaign in late ‘43, early ‘44, we were menaced by a Jap machine gun nest in a place called the Admin. Box.
“Unfortunately, Charles and his men were given the job of knocking it out. They charged it and men were killed as the Japanese opened fire.
Charles grabbed a Bren gun from a fallen soldier and kept going, shooting and lobbing grenades at the enemy. He later died of wounds received in that charge.”
But Wilkinson said he prefers to remember the last time he saw Hoey. The two shook hands in Calcutta’s Grand Hotel six months before Hoey was killed in action.
“I was reading a newspaper when Charles spotted me and said, “Hey Wilkie, how ‘ya doing?’ He could have ignored me but that’s the kind of person Charles was.
“My greatest regret is not meeting Charles’ parents and telling what I thought of their son,” Wilkinson said. He said he laments the “very tragic” fate of the Hoey family. Hoey’s sister died of suicide and his brother was killed with the Canadian Scottish in the Normandy invasion of July, 1944.
Another person familiar with the Hoey family is Dr. Alex Greenwood of Nanoose Bay.
Greenwood served with Hoey in the First Lincolnshire Regiment “later named the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment,” Greenwood says proudly.
“Charles was a scamp, a real born leader. He missed receiving the Burmese Star because he was killed before it was thought of,” Greenwood said, adding Hoey’s grandfather was Major-General Charles R. Simpson, the colonel of the Lincolnshire Regiment.
Greenwood’s three sisters taught Hoey at Queen Margaret’s School which taught boys up to 10-years-old in those days.
Greenwood is retired and author of two war-time books. Wilkinson is retired in Vancouver. He left Burma in 1946 and eventually served as manager with the Jericho Tennis Club.
— originally published in the
May 12, 1991 Pictorial.