Official Programme of London’s Welcome to Mike O’Leary, V.C., for the event held in Hyde Park on 10th July 1915. 4 sides, printed locally in London in 1915 for recruiting purposes. Rare.
Condition: folded, some foxing and evidence of age and handling, overall Fine Condition.
Major Michael John O'Leary VC (29th September 1890 – 2nd August 1961) was an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross, having been born in Inchigeela, County Cork. O'Leary achieved his award for single-handedly charging and destroying two German barricades defended by machine gun positions near the French village of Cuinchy. He became a propaganda figure, and the event in Hyde Park attracted a crowd of thousands.
At the time of his action, O'Leary was a nine-year veteran of service as a Guardsman with the Irish Guards.
During December 1914, O'Leary saw heavy fighting with the Irish Guards and was Mentioned in Despatches and subsequently promoted to Lance Corporal on 5th January 1915. Three weeks later, on 30th January, the Irish Guards were ordered to prepare for an attack on German positions near Cuinchy on the Le Bassee Canal, a response to a successful German operation in the area five days before. The Germans attacked first however, and on the morning of 1 February seized a stretch of canal embankment on the western end of the 2nd Brigade line from a company of Coldstream Guards. This section, known as the Hollow, was tactically important as it defended a culvert that passed underneath a railway embankment. 4 Company of Irish Guards, originally in reserve, were tasked with joining the Coldstream Guards in retaking the position at 04:00, but the attack was met with heavy machine gun fire and most of the assault party, including all of the Irish Guards officers, were killed or wounded.
To replace these officers, Second Lieutenant Innes of 1 Company was ordered forward to gather the survivors and withdraw, forming up at a barricade on the edge of the Hollow. Innes regrouped the survivors and, following a heavy bombardment from supporting artillery and with his own company providing covering fire, assisted the Coldstream Guards in a second attack at 10:15. Weighed down with entrenching equipment, the attacking Coldstream Guardsmen faltered and began to suffer heavy casualties. Innes too came under heavy fire from a German barricade to their front equipped with a machine gun.
O'Leary had been serving as Innes's orderly, and had joined him in the operations earlier in the morning and again in the second attack. Charging past the rest of the assault party, O'Leary closed with the first German barricade at the top of the railway embankment and fired five shots, killing the gun's crew. Continuing forward, O'Leary confronted a second barricade, also armed with a machine gun 60 yards further on and again mounted the railway embankment, to avoid the marshy ground on either side. The Germans spotted his approach, but could not bring their gun to bear on him before he opened fire, killing three soldiers and capturing two others after he ran out of ammunition. Reportedly, O'Leary had made his advance on the second barricade "intent upon killing another German to whom he had taken a dislike”.
Having disabled both guns and enabled the recapture of the British position, O'Leary then returned to his unit with his prisoners, apparently "as cool as if he had been for a walk in the park.” For his actions, O'Leary received a battlefield promotion to Sergeant on 4th February and was recommended for the Victoria Cross, which was gazetted on 16th February 1915.
The citation reads as follows: ‘For conspicuous bravery at Cuinchy on the 1st February, 1915. When forming one of the storming party which advanced against the enemy's barricades he rushed to the front and himself killed five Germans who were holding the first barricade, after which he attacked a second barricade, about 60 yards further on, which he captured, after killing three of the enemy and making prisoners of two more. Lance-Corporal O'Leary thus practically captured the enemy's position by himself and prevented the attacking party from being fired upon.’
Subsequently commissioned into the Connaught Rangers, by the time he retired from the British Army in 1921, he had reached the rank of lieutenant. He served in the army again during the Second World War, although his later service was blighted by periods of ill-health. At his final retirement from the military in 1945, O'Leary was an Army major in command of a prisoner of war camp. Between the wars, O'Leary spent many years employed as a police officer in Canada and is sometimes considered to be a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, as he had originally left the Irish Guards in August 1913 when he had first joined the Royal Northwest Mounted Police in Saskatchewan, but had been recalled to the British Army with the outbreak of the Great War. Following the Second World War he worked as a building contractor in London, where he died in 1961.