Sir Spike: how a humble Ukrainian boy from Saskatoon became a French Knight

    Sir Spike’s 1943 army portrait

    New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

    The May 7 issue of NP-UN contained an article on the 75th anniversary of V-E Day by Captain (Retd) Andre Sochaniwsky CD. The article briefly mentioned Mr. Walter Romanow from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. NP-UN learned that not only Dr. Romanow was a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013, but he also received a Knighthood from France in 2015. Specifically, he has the distinction of donning the title of “Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour” (France).

    We are familiar with knighthoods in England, wherein Paul McCartney becomes Sir Paul McCartney. But France also has its own knighthoods, wherein Walter Romanow becomes Sir Walter Romanow, in France’s Legion of Honour. His family affectionately calls him “Sir Spike”.

    So, how does a humble Ukrainian boy from Saskatoon become a French Knight?

    Becoming Spike

    First, how did Walter, or Volodomyr, come to be known as “Spike”?

    Spike and Joe in 1927

    The nickname was given to him from when he was very young. Spike was a tough kid, born of Ukrainian immigrant parents who founded St. George’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral in Saskatoon (plaque dedicated at Cathedral in 2012). At the age of six, he even looked out for his older brother. His brother was hit by an older bully, so Spike lay in wait in a potato patch for the bully to pass by, then sprang on him and beat him up. That inner toughness and Ukrainian Canadian loyalty carried Spike through the Second World War.

    World War II

    Spike joined the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and entered into the war dropping behind enemy lines in Normandy the night before the D-Day invasion. Their job was to help keep the enemy away from the beaches. Taking out the Merville Battery was one of their first tasks, which they accomplished. Spike spent most of his time in the war behind enemy lines, sabotaging, and reporting enemy positions. He was also at the front, cleansing building by building, liberating many French towns and cities from German occupation. After France, Spike dropped into the Ardennes for the duration of the Battle of the Bulge, and had two other drops, those times behind enemy lines in Germany.

    Spike in Normandy (1944)

    Mid April 1945, Spike’s battalion was sent north to capture the seaport of Wismar on the Baltic. They seized the city on May 2, 1945, only a few hours before the Soviet troops arrived. They took the town with no resistance, as the Germans were eager to surrender to the Canadians rather than to the Soviets. In Wismar, since Spike spoke Ukrainian, he was an interpreter between the Canadian and the Soviet troops. And it was while he was in Wismar that the war officially ended. Montgomery then entered Wismar, claiming all the glory, and Spike’s battalion was returned to England.

    Running back to Saskatoon

    After returning to Canada, and before being discharged, Spike chose to serve in a camp close to Saskatoon. His assignment was “Ski Instructor”. Spike had never skied in his life, so he simply threw ropes to his students and would then pull them in a jeep up and down the hills.

    When discharged, Spike returned to Saskatoon to complete his education obtaining his BA at the University of Saskachewan in 1951. And it was in one of these classes that he befriended Ed Whelan, who got Spike started working as a reporter in radio. Spike completed his undergraduate degree while working various jobs in radio and newspaper. It was also at this time that the CFQC television station started up, and Spike was hired to be its first manager from 1953 to 1963.

    Spike Manager CFQC TV Saskatoon, 1960

    Becoming Walt in Windsor

    Dr Walter Romanow, U of Windsor (1980)

    After managing the television station in Saskatoon for 10 years, Spike decided to move, with his wife Yvonna and four children, to Windsor to complete his Masters degree. After graduating in 1964, Spike, or rather “Walter” or “Walt” as he was known in the East, became a professor teaching in the English Department at the University of Windsor. Being a novice professor he also taught English to Japanese students in the summer while the other professors took the summer off. His son, Stephen Romanow, has fond memories of this as he always accompanied the class field trips to the Shakespearean Theater in Stratford.

    However, it was also at this time that the University had decided to introduce English related courses in broadcasting and Walter was the obvious choice to create and teach these courses. Within a few years these courses led to the development of the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Windsor, with Walter as the Head of the Department.

    Walter made a long time career as a professor and a social scientist, publishing a plethora of articles and co-authoring university mass media textbooks. Walter furthered his academic background by obtaining his Ph.D. in 1974 from Wayne State University, Michigan, becoming Dr. Walter Romanow.

    After spending many years with the Department of Communication Studies, Walter became Dean of Social Studies, and then retired as Dean of Students in 1987. For many years yet, after retiring, Walter continued his involvement with social research and writing. His work officially concluded with the release of another co-authored book in 2006.

    Retired to Edmonton

    In 1991, Walter and Yvonna, both retired, moved to Edmonton to be closer to their four children who were then living in Edmonton. Spike became more involved with the affairs of veterans from the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, including the publication of the Battalion’s War Diary.

    The Monument (Cairn)

    Another project Walt became devotedly involved in was getting a mountain located in Banff National Park in the Rocky Mountains named “Ex Ceolis” (latin for “Out of the Clouds”) his Battalion’s motto. This also included getting Ex Ceolis’ four mountain peaks named after the Battalion’s four battle honours earned during the Second World War – Normandy, Ardennes, Rhine, Elbe. Walter also took charge of getting a monument designed, constructed, and installed at the Siffleur Falls staging area.

    He organized a committee for the monument’s dedication, and acted as liason between the Battalion and the current Canadian Airborne Regiment. The cairn was unveiled in September 2000 by Lieutenant Governor Lois Hole. In total some 200 persons attended the event.

    Since then, Romanow worked with airborne veterans to commemorate a remembrance at that location, every year on June 6, including veterans from the Battalion, the Airborne Social Club, and current soldiers serving in the PPCLI (Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry) who served in Afghanistan.

    Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal – 2013

    This medal was created in 2011 to mark the 60th anniversary of the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II, and was to “honour significant contributions and achievements”. On February 28, 2013 Walter received the award for his service as a veteran, and for the work he did to get his battalion’s monument erected and dedicated at Siffleur Falls, Alberta. The presentation took place at the C.F.B. Edmonton, and was a rather large event, with a number of local family in attendance, some of his fellow 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion buddies, and about 300 current soldiers of the PPCLI.

    During the 2013 Queen Jubilee award

    National Order of The Legion Of Honour – 2015
    Becoming Sir Walter Romanow
    (Sir Spike)

    The National Order of the Legion of Honour is a French order established by Napoleon Bonaparte on May 19, 1802. The order is the highest decoration in France, and is divided into five degrees of increasing distinction: Knight, Officer, Commander, Grand Officer, Grand Cross. True to the ideals of Napoleon the order is egalitarian; both men and women, French citizens and foreigners, civilians and military.

    (Excerpt from letter to Walter) “Please allow me to express once more my most sincere congratulations, on behalf of all my countrymen, regarding your nomination to the rank of Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest of our national orders. This decoration, awarded as part of a special campaign organized in 2014 commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Allied Landings in Normandy, becomes in 2015 a symbol of your participation in the operations that helped bring an end to the Second World War in 1945. … It is my honour to deliver your insignia to you. You will find them included with this letter. With regards to foreign nationals, the code of the Legion of Honour states that nominations are effective as the date that the issuing order is published. As the Canadian authorities have already given their approval for your nomination, you can therefore proudly wear this insignia, which attests to your courage and your devotion to the ideals of liberty and peace. … Yours sincerely, Nicholas Chapuis, Ambassador of France to Canada. “

    The insignia was ceremonially presented to Spike/Walter Romanow at the Siffleur Falls staging area on June 6, 2015. The event was attended by fellow veteran members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, members of the Airborne Social Club, current soldiers from the PPCLI, and friends and family.

    Sir Spike receiving Insignia, 2015

    Sir Spike is currently residing in Edmonton, Alberta, where he is still surrounded by many loving family members.

    With files from Stephen Romanow

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