New markers for local Victoria Cross recipients
One hundred years after the start of the First World War, new markers will be installed on the Burnaby graves of two Victoria Cross recipients from that "war to end all wars."
Private Michael J. "Mickey" O'Rourke and Sgt. Charles W. Train are both buried in the Normandy section for veterans at Forest Lawn cemetery.
Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) funds an ongoing effort to maintain the graves of Canadian veterans. About two months ago, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, on behalf of VAC, contacted Forest Lawn about installing new markers better highlighting the soldiers' status as recipients of the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth's highest military honour for valour.
"While all Veterans' graves are important, VAC is especially cognizant that during the 100th Anniversary of WWI and the 75th Anniversary of WWII that our Victoria Cross recipients' graves will be visited with greater frequency and we want to be certain that their headstones are maintained to a very high standard," said the commission by email.
The commission provided the markers and the cemetery will contribute the labour and upkeep, said Brian Boyle of Forest Lawn.
Boyle noted that there are two other Victoria Cross recipients buried in Burnaby, one at Ocean View cemetery which is also operated by Dignity Memorial, and another at the Masonic Cemetery in the Brentwood area. But he has not yet heard of any similar work at their gravesites.
Visitors to the Normandy section for war veterans will realize the importance of what those buried there did, said Boyle, "but in particular these two gentlemen that we're recognizing because of what they did over and above that."
Left: Private Michael J. "Mickey" O'Rourke
O'Rourke immigrated to Canada from his native Ireland, moving to Vancouver before the First World War and working for a time as a lumberjack, according to local historian Maurice Guibord. He enlisted in the army as soon as the war started and served as a private with the 7th B.C. Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force.
He also won the Military Medal for bravery on Sept. 16, 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, when he "wiped out a German position with his rifles and hand grenades."
O'Rourke's Victoria Cross was for his efforts in August 1917 near Lens, France as a stretcher-bearer when he went without sleep for three days and nights to tend to the wounded.
Again and again he left the safety of the trenches to bring food and water and to rescue his wounded comrades, all while under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and severe shelling, said Guibord. He rescued a blinded man in clear view of the enemy, and saved a badly wounded solder who had been left behind.
"Several times he was knocked off his feet and partially buried when shells landed nearby."
His VC citation read, "He showed throughout an absolute disregard for his own safety, going wherever there were wounded to succour."
After the war, O'Rourke returned to Vancouver where he worked as a longshoreman for 10 years, once leading striking dockworkers in battle with mounted police, led by the police chief, an old army acquaintance.
Left: Sgt. Charles W. Train
He refused to meet with royalty more than once including the Prince of Wales in 1929, when his refusal made headlines, and in 1951, he would not be paraded when Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited Vancouver.
Then in 1956, he refused again to attend VC celebrations in England, thinking his friends were trying to trick him into Essondale mental hospital, Guibord said. They eventually convinced him, an anonymous donor paid the airfare and he arrived just in time at Buckingham Palace.
He never married and died in 1957 at age 83.
Train, meanwhile, was born in London, UK and joined the London Scottish Regiment in 1907.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross and Mons Star for his actions near Jerusalem in Palestine on Dec. 8, 1917 when he helped save his battalion from heavy casualties.
His company was caught by surprise by enemy soldiers firing two machine guns. Train rushed forward and attacked the enemy with grenades, putting some out of action with a direct hit, and shooting and wounding an enemy officer, before going to assist a comrade who was also bombing the enemy.
He moved to Canada after the war, retiring as the secretary of the Shipping Federation of B.C. in 1961. He also never married and died in Vancouver in 1965 at age 74.
The cemetery's general manager, Jarma del Rosario, encouraged people to visit the section for war veterans "because I think we forget" what they accomplished and sacrificed.
The new grave markers for O'Rourke and Train will be installed on Tuesday, Aug. 26 at 10 a.m. Boyle is hoping to have local Legion members organize a dedication ceremony. The public is welcome to attend.