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Irish Winners of the George Cross

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  • Irish Winners of the George Cross



    The George Cross was instituted in September 1940 as a civilian award for bravery. King George VI created the award. It was designed by Percy Metcalfe and it is made at the Royal Mint. In 1940 living holders of the Empire Gallantry Medal were entitled to exchange their award for a GC and later, in 1971, it also replaced the Albert and Edward medals. The George Cross can also be awarded to servicemen when a specifically military award is inappropriate, as in the recent award to Tpr Finney for his courage in Iraq.
    The cross has also been awarded collectively, to Malta in 1942 and to the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1999. There have also been several Irish awardees, to whom this thread is dedicated.

    521319 Sgt John Archibald Beckett.


    John Beckett was born in Lurgan, Co.Armagh on the 14th March 1906. He joined the RAF in 1935 and served in France, Canada and the Middle East during the War. On 28th March 1947, Sgt Beckett was a driver in No 38 Sqdn in Ein Shemer, Palestine.

    While refuelling a Lancaster bomber a fire broke out in Beckett’s refuelling vehicle enveloping him and setting the Lancaster's fuselage on fire. Another airman beat out the flames on Sgt Beckett, though he was severely burnt. In spite of his burns, Beckett drove the burning truck, containing 2000 gallons of fuel, away from the aircraft thus saving the lives of his comrades and 20 aircraft. Sgt Beckett died of his injuries on April 12th 1947 and is buried in Khayat Beach War Cemetery, Israel.

    Two of his brothers were KIA in WW2, William in the Merchant Navy, in 1941, and Samuel in the RAF in 1943.
    Groundhog
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  • #2
    Fr John O'Shea.

    Fr O’Shea was the Parish Priest of Ardmore, Co. Waterford. On the 18th March 1911, a ship named Teaser sank in a heavy gale in Ardmore Bay. Fr O'Shea led several attempts in a small boat, to save the lives three crewmen. For his actions he was awarded the RNLI Gold Medal and the Sea Gallantry Medal in Silver. In 1924 he was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal. This medal was replaced by the George Cross in 1940 so Fr O’Shea became a GC laureate. He died on 11th September 1942, aged 71 and is buried in Ballyporeen Churchyard, Co. Tipperary.
    Groundhog
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    Last edited by Groundhog; 4 December 2004, 06:26.
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    • #3
      Constable Francis Austin Morteshed.



      Frank Morteshed (or Mortished) was a Constable in the Royal Ulster Constabulary though he was born in Co. Tipperary.

      In March 1924 Frank pursued three armed men who had robbed an office in Belfast and killed the manager, Henry Leech. One of the fleeing robbers attempted to shoot him but Constable Morteshed wrestled him to the ground. Oddly enough Morteshed was himself armed at the time but did not draw his revolver. For his courage Frank Morteshed received the Empire Gallantry Medal, which was replaced with a GC in 1941. The robber was hanged.

      Constable Morteshed also served in both world wars, in the 36th Ulster Division in WW1 and as a Sgt in the RAF in WW2. He was also a distinguished sportsman, playing rugby and soccer. He died of TB in 1948.
      Groundhog
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      Last edited by Groundhog; 5 December 2004, 00:49.
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      • #4
        Thomas Raymond Kelly



        Thomas Kelly was born in Newry, Co. Down in 1928. On the 18th March 1947 he was an Able Seaman in the Merchant Navy on board the S.S. Empire Plover in the Bay of Biscay. During a storm, another ship, the S.S. Famagusta started to sink and sent out an S.O.S. The Empire Plover answered the call and the Famagusta launched a lifeboat to carry personnel to the Empire Plover. This boat capsized and threw its ten occupants into the sea.

        The crew of the Empire Plover lowered ropes, ladders and scrambling nets for the people in the water and three of her crew stripped and entered the sea. Two of them remained at the nets but Thomas Kelly swam with a line to the crew of the lifeboat and brought to safety an officer who had been badly injured.He then swam out again and returned with a second member of the crew. The third time, he went to the assistance of a woman. He succeeded in reaching her but both were swamped by a wave and disappeared. Five of the ten who had been in the lifeboat were drowned.

        Thomas was awarded a posthumous George Cross.
        Groundhog
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        Last edited by Groundhog; 6 December 2004, 00:34.
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        • #5
          Thomas Atkinson Whitehead



          Thomas Whitehead was born on the 17th July 1887 in County Tipperary. In 1922 he was working in Sunderland in the tar distellery of Brotherton & Co. The following account of the deed for which he received the Empire Medal was published in the London Gazette of 5th Sept 1922.

          “The stills used at the works of Messrs. Brotherton & Co. Ltd. of Sunderland, tar distillers, were large cylinders two feet in diameter and twenty feet deep. While one of these stills was standing empty, and, it was thought, disconnected from the adjoining stills, a workman went down inside by means of a rope ladder through the small manhole, fifteen inches in diameter. When he reached the bottom he collapsed and his mate, realising that gas must have accumulated in the still, shouted for help and ran for a rope. Another workman without waiting for a rope attempted a rescue, but was overcome and collapsed. A second attempt was made, the rescuer going down with a handkerchief tied round his mouth and a rope round his body, but he was also overcome and was pulled up. Then Mr. Whitehead made two attempts to reach the two unconscious men, first equipped with a gauze respirator and then with a hood with oxygen pumped into it, but on both occasions he had to be pulled out. By this time the pitch-pipe had been removed from the bottom of the still and air was being forced in, and eventually rescuers reached the two men and they were drawn up, but were found to be dead."

          In 1971, Mr Whitehead was given the option of exchanging his Empire medal for a George Cross, which he declined. He died on 27th August 1973 in Larne, Co. Antrim.
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          • #6
            Samuel ORR



            Samuel Orr was born in Derry in 1895. He Served in the Great War in the Highland Light Infantry. After the war he joined the Ulster Special Constabulary. In 1922 he performed tow acts of bravery for which he was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal. In the first he arrested an armed criminal and later in 1922 he tackled two armed IRA men in a pub, being wounded in the struggle. He received his medal in the same ceremony as Con Morteshed (above) and like him was invited to exchange the EGM for a George Cross, which he received on the 25th November 1941 at Buckingham Palace. Sam was also the holder of a Military Medal from his Great War service. He served 30 years in the Londonderry Harbour Police and died on 4th April 1958, aged 63.
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            • #7
              Sgt Michael Healy



              Michael Healy was a Dungarvan man who joined the Royal Munster Fusiliers at the start of World War 1. He was in fact, one of Ireland’s most decorated Great War soldiers, being awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Medal and Bar and an Albert Medal. His DCM was earned in Sept 1916 when he captured a German machine gun position.

              In March 1917, near the town of Bray, on the Somme, Sgt Healy was engaged in grenade training. One man threw a grenade that bounced back from the parapet into their trench. Healy picked it up to throw it out of the trench, which he succeeded in doing though the grenade exploded almost immediately, fatally injuring the Sergeant. He was awarded the Albert Medal posthumously. Had he lived he would have qualified to have this award replaced by the George Cross. Sgt Healy’s medals are on display in Dungarvan Museum.
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              • #8
                Cpl James McCarthy

                James McCarthy was the son of James and Johanna McCarthy, 24 College St, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. He served with the 1st Bn Royal Irish Regt in Palestine during the Great War. On the 24th January 1918, Cpl McCarthy was cleaning grenades in his quarters, when the pin of one came out, igniting the fuse. He carried it out to throw it but there were some men standing around. Realising that he could not throw it anywhere without injuring them he clasped the grenade to his side, killing himself but saving others from serious injury.

                8674 Cpl James McCarthy is buried in Jerusalem War Cemetery. For his self-sacrifice, he was awarded the Albert Medal and, like Sgt Healy, had he lived he would have been entitled to exchange it for a George Cross in due course.
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