Case study

WW1 Canadian VC recipient Michael James O'Rourke

The story of Canadian First World War Victoria Cross recipient Michael James O'Rourke.

Michael James O'Rourke
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: Michael James O’Rourke

DOB: 19 March 1878

Place of Birth: Limerick, Ireland

Date of Action: 15 to 17 August 1917

Place of Action: Hill 70, Lens, France

Rank: Private

Regiment: 7th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force

Michael O’Rourke was born in Limerick, Ireland, and emigrated to Canada. He enlisted as a private in the 7th battalion in the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a stretcher bearer. He was awarded the Military medal for his conduct at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Private O’Rourke received the Victoria Cross for his actions at Hill 70, Lens, France during 15 to 17 August 1917. His citation explains further:

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during prolonged operations. For three days and nights Pte. O’Rourke, who is a stretcher-bearer, worked unceasingly in bringing the wounded into safety, dressing them, and getting them food and water. During the whole of his period the area in which he worked was subjected to very severe shelling and swept by heavy machine gun and rifle fire. On several occasions he was knocked down and partially buried by enemy shells. Seeing a comrade who had been blinded stumbling around ahead of our trench, in full view of the enemy who were sniping him, Pte. O’Rourke jumped out of his trench and brought the man back, being himself heavily sniped at while doing so. Again he went forward about 50 yards in front of our barrage under very heavy and accurate fire from enemy machine guns and snipers, and brought in a comrade. On a subsequent occasion, when the line of advanced posts was retired to the line to be consolidated, he went forward under very heavy enemy fire of every description and brought back a wounded man who had been left behind.He showed throughout an absolute disregard for his own safety, going wherever there were wounded to succour, and his magnificent courage and devotion in continuing his rescue work, in spite of exhaustion and the incessant heavy enemy fire of every description, inspired all ranks and undoubtedly saved many lives.

Private O’Rourke survived the war and returned to Canada. He died in 1957 in Vancouver.

Published 20 June 2016