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The highest British decoration for “conspicuous bravery or devotion to the country in the presence of the enemy”, which was instituted by Queen Victoria towards the end of the Crimean War in 1856, and is known as the Victoria Cross, has been awarded to many Irishmen, including three who were born in this county. Cast in bronze, from Russian guns taken at Sevastopol, the decoration is in the form of a Maltese cross, bearing in the centre the royal crown surmounted by a lion, and the words “For Valour”. The recipient’s name is engraved on the back of an attached bar, decorated with a laurel.

Lance Corporal Abraham Boulger, the first Kildare man to receive the decoration, was born at Kilcullen about 1827, During his service with the 84th Regiment in India he was said to have been “critically engaged daily with the enemy, either in pitched battle with his regiment or as scout and skirmisher. Twelve actions were fought, and in all of these he took part. At Lucknow he stormed a bridge, and was the first man to dash into a masked battery”. For these actions Boulger won his reward, and following further distinguished service as a Sergeant-Major, including participation in the storming of Tel-el-Kebir, he was given the honorary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. After he retired in 1887 he returned home, where he died thirteen years later.

Bishopscourt, near Kill, was the birthplace of Brigadier-General Charles Fitzclarence in 1865. It was the home of his mother, Lady Maria Henriette Scott, eldest daughter of the 3rd Earl of Clonmell, who had purchased the mansion in the year that he married the Hon. Anne de Burgh, daughter of General Sir Ulysses de Burgh, of Bert, Athy; another daughter of Clonmell’s was married to John la Touche of Harristown. Lady Maria Henriette married Capt. George Fitzclarence R.N., Knight of the Medjidie in 1864, whose grandfather was the eldest illegitimate son of King William IV.

The Victoria Cross Cascabel

A little, known fact, even to many "experts" is that the metal used to forge  every Victoria Cross is tended by 15 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps in Donnington. The VC metal rarely sees the light of day as it is secured in special vaults and is removed only under exceptional circumstances; however, on 28 May, this item of national history was transported to the Imperial War Museum in London for the royal opening of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Exhibition.

Weighing 358 ounces and looking somewhat like a lump of cheese, the VC metal is unique among BOD Donnington's 700,000 item headings of Army stores. It is all that remains of the bronze cascabels from two Russian cannon captured at Sebastopol, the last great battle of the Crimean War in 1854-55. The cascabel, a large knob at the rear of the cannon, held ropes which were used when the artillery piece was being man-handled. The two cannon, minus cascabels, stand proudly outside the Officers Mess in Woolwich.

The most recent issue of metal, exactly fifty ounces and sufficient to make twelve medals, occurred on 23 October 1959, to Messrs Hancocks & Co (Jewellers) Ltd, the royal jewellers who have been responsible for individually making each medal since the inception of the VC in 1857. Given that fifty ounces are required to make twelve Victoria Cross medals, the remaining 358 ounces contain enough for a further eighty five.

 All four sons of the Fitzclarence’s joined the Services; the youngest died in the Crimea, another was killed in action with the Egyptian Army, and his twin brother rose to the rank of Brigadier-General. The hero of the family, Charles Fitzclarence, went from the militia into the Royal Fusiliers, and he accompanied Kitchener on the Khartoum campaign. He was said to have been “grievously disappointed” when his unit was not allowed to go up the Nile. When the regiment of the Irish Guards was formed in 1900 he transferred to it, bringing with him the sobriquet The Demon, and a V.C., from his service in South Africa in the previous year. He had been given no less than three recommendations for the decoration, based on such gallantry as that displayed at Mafeking. There, surrounded by superior numbers of enemy “his personal coolness and courage inspired the greatest confidence in his men”; a heavy defeat was inflicted on the Boers, who lost fifty, to only two of Fitzclarence’s men. On another occasion, in a hand-to-hand encounter, he killed four of the enemy with his sword. Later he served as battalion, and then regimental commander, of the Guards, and for a time he was stationed at the Curragh. As a Brigadier-General he led the 1st Guards Brigade with the Expeditionary Force in France and there, on November 11th, 1914, moving along a country road, in darkness, at the head of his men, he was killed.

Also awarded the VC during the Great War was Lieut. John Vincent Holland, the eldest son of a veterinary surgeon who lived at the Model Farm, Athy. This is how the London Gazette of 26 October 1916 reported his distinction: “John Vincent Holland, Lieutenant 3rd Battn Leinster Regiment, attached 7th Battn. Date of Act of Bravery: 3 Sept. 1916. For most conspicuous bravery during the heavy engagement when, not content with bombing hostile dugouts within the objective, he fearlessly led his bombers through our own artillery barrage and cleared a great part of the village in front. He started out with twenty-six bombers and finished up with only five, after capturing some fifty prisoners. By this very gallant action he undoubtedly broke the spirit of the enemy and thus saved us many casualties when the battalion made a further advance. He was far from well at the time, and later had to go to hospital”. A keen sportsman, he shot big game, played tennis and cricket, and hunted with the Kildare, Queen’s County and Carlow foxhounds. He died at Hobart, in Tasmania in 1975.

By Con Costello


Victoria Cross by Nationality

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English 614 awards 
Irish 190 awards 
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American 5 awards 
Danish 4 awards 
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German 2 awards 
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