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Commander Rowland Bourke VC-Zeebrugge-Oostende raid

 
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BerichtGeplaatst: 15 Apr 2008 7:53    Onderwerp: Commander Rowland Bourke VC-Zeebrugge-Oostende raid Reageer met quote



At the start of World War One, few people might have guessed that a quiet, introverted rancher from the interior of British Columbia (BC) would soon become one of only four Canadian naval Victoria Cross winners. Ironically, the late Victoria, BC resident, Commander Rowland Bourke, almost never made it to active duty.

Commander Bourke was born in London, England in 1885. At 17, he came with his family to Nelson, BC. When World War One broke out, he left the family fruit farm and volunteered to enlist in the Canadian forces, but was rejected in all three arms of service because of defective eyesight. Undaunted, he returned to England at his own expense and successfully joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve to serve on the motor launches.

In April 1918, raids were arranged to block the Belgian harbour of Zeebrugge-Ostend, most heavily defended of all the German U-boat bases. Bourke, a Lieutenant at the time, immediately volunteered his vessel for the rescue of crews whose ships were sunk in the blockade effort. He was again rejected due to his poor eyesight. Despite being told most of the men would not make it back, Bourke persisted in offering his motor launch (ML) as a standby in case one of the chosen rescue motor launches was disabled.

As a result, on the night of April 23, Bourke’s launch picked up 38 sailors from the sinking blockship HMS Brilliant and towed the crippled ML 532 out of the harbour. For this latter achievement Bourke was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

When the second operation against Zeebrugge-Ostend was called, Bourke’s motor launch was found to be too damaged for the work. But Bourke was so eager to take part that he offered to give up his command in order to participate in the operation on another vessel, ML 254. Finally, however, his own ML was accepted as a standby. Bourke had just 24 hours to completely re-fit his vessel and find a new volunteer crew.

He succeeded, and on May 9-10, Bourke’s ML followed the blockship HMS Vindictive back into the Belgian harbour. While backing out after the raid, he heard cries from the water. Bourke made a prolonged search of the area amid very heavy gunfire at close range. He found a Lieutenant and two ratings from the RN ship badly wounded in the water. Bourke’s own launch was hit 55 times and two of the crew were killed. Nevertheless, he managed to bring out his vessel in one piece.

For this action, King George V decorated Bourke with the Victoria Cross. He was also presented with the French Legion of Honour. With characteristic modesty, Bourke asked his family not to inform the press of his achievements.

After the war the reluctant hero returned to Nelson, BC and married. In 1932 he and his wife moved to Victoria and Bourke started work at HMC Dockyard in Esquimalt as a civilian clerk.

He was instrumental in organizing the Fishermen’s Reserve, a west coast patrolling operation, just prior to World War Two.

He also served as a recruiting officer for a time but in 1941 again became an active serviceman, this time with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve. He served as Commander at HMCS Givenchy, Esquimalt, and Burrard, Vancouver.

In 1950 Bourke ended his long and dedicated career with the navy, retiring as supervisor of civilian guards. He died in August 1958 and was buried with full military honours. Bourke willed his VC and other medals to the National Archives in Ottawa.

© http://www.navalandmilitarymuseum.org/resource_pages/heroes/bourke.html
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BerichtGeplaatst: 15 Apr 2008 7:54    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

In early 1918 it was decided that a combined operation should be launched against the German submarine bases at the Belgian Channel ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend. This was to be done by the use of blockships and concurrent commando raids and Bourke, volunteering for this mission, was assigned the command of an 80 foot motor launch to take crew off the blockships when sunk in the harbour mouths.(8) In the first engagement at Ostend, Bourke rescued 38 officers and men and received the DSO (Distinguished Service Order).(9) But it was at the second engagement, again at Ostend, that, in the words of the Admiral commanding, Bourke was “The bravest of all holders of the Victoria Cross”. (10) His citation for the Victoria Cross reads as follows:-

“Volunteered for rescue work in command of M.L. 276, and followed “Vindictive” into Ostend , engaging the enemy’s machine guns on both piers with Lewis guns. After M.L. 254 had backed out, Lieut. Bourke laid his vessel alongside “Vindictive” to make further search. Finding no one, he withdrew, but hearing cries in the water, he again entered the harbour, and after a prolonged search, eventually found Lieutenant Sir John Alleyne, and two ratings, all badly wounded, and in the water, clinging to an upended skiff, and he rescued them. During all this time the motor launch was under very heavy fire at close range, being hit in fifty-five places, once by a 6 in. shell – two of her small crew being killed and others wounded. The vessel was seriously damaged and speed greatly reduced. Lieut. Bourke, however, managed to bring her out and carry on until he fell in with a Monitor, which took him in tow. This episode displayed daring and skill of a very high order, and Lieut. Bourke’s bravery and perseverance undoubtedly saved the lives of Lieut. Alleyne and two of the “Vindictive’s” Crew.” (11)

Bourke received his V.C. from King George V on Sept. 11, 1918 during an Investiture at Buckingham Palace.(12) He was also promoted to Lt. Commander and was awarded the Chevalier of Legion of Honour by the French Government. (13) With characteristic modesty, Bourke asked his family not to inform the press of his achievements. (14) Bourke returned to Nelson marrying Rosiland Barnet of Sydney Australia in 1919 and again took up fruit farming.(15) He was also very successful as a vegetable grower, and developed a technique of his own for double-cropping potatoes. He was also for a time in charge of the navigation lights in his area of Kootenay Lake under the Department of Marine.(15a) Wishing only a quiet life, fame continued to follow him as in 1920, he went to New Zealand on a lecture tour under the auspices of the Auckland Navy League. (16) In 1929, a large banquet in London England under the sponsorship of the Prince of Wales for all living VC winners was held but Bourke declined to go quoting business reasons. This, despite a public outcry led by Nelson Mayor R.B. Barnes and the offering of free transportation by the C.P.R. (17) By 1931, his eyesight had deteriorated to the point that he was afraid of going blind, so he subsequently gave up farming and moved to Victoria.(18) In 1932, he obtained a supervisory position at the HMC Dockyard in Esquimalt. In the Second World War, at a rank of Acting Commander,(18a) he was instrumental in forming the “gumboot navy” of fishermen used to patrol the coast of B.C. (19) Bourke retired in 1950, as supervisor of civilian guards. (20) He died in 1958 and was buried with full military honors at Victoria. (21) A shy man, he used to say that he won the V.C. because he couldn’t see well enough to get out of the way. (22)

8) CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum web site (www.navalandmilitarymuseum.org/resource_pages/heroes/bourke

“Our Bravest and Best” Arthur Bishop (1995) Page 97

9) “A Thousand Brave Canadians” Dr. John Blatherwick (1991) Page 44

London Gazette July 19 1918

Nelson Daily News July 27 1918

10) Nelson Daily News September 5 1934

11) “A Thousand Brave Canadians” Dr. John Blatherwick (1991) Page 44

London Gazette August 27 1918

12) “Our Bravest and Best” Arthur Bishop (1995) Page 97

13) London Gazette December 10 1918

“Our Bravest and Best” Arthur Bishop (1995) Page 98

14) Nelson Daily News September 2 1918

15) “Our Bravest and Best” Arthur Bishop (1995) Page 97

15a) Nelson Daily News January 1 1944 Page 2 & 3

16) Nelson Daily News February 27 1920

17) Nelson Daily News October 25, 26 & November 8 1929

18) Nelson Daily News March 23 1932

CFB Esquimalt Navel & Military Museum web site

19) Nelson Daily News November 28 1950

CFB Esquimalt Navel & Military Museum web site

19a) Nelson Daily News January 1 1944 Page 2 & 3

20) CFB Esquimalt Navel & Military Museum web site

21) “Our Bravest and Best” Arthur Bishop (1995) Page 98

22) “Our Bravest and Best” Arthur Bishop (1995) Page 86

© http://www.54thbattalioncef.ca/WARPAGES/bourke.htm
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