Victoria Cross earned on Canadian soil

June 8, 2012 by Sharon Adams

Rifleman Timothy O’Hea, VC.
PHOTO: http://www.greenjackets-net.org.uk/rb/canusa.html

The Fenian Raids gave rise to the awarding of a Victoria Cross for a courageous action on Canadian soil. Irish-born Timothy O’Hea, 20, was stationed in Canada in 1866 with the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade, The Prince Consort’s Own, in anticipation of attacks by the Brotherhood of the Fenians, Irish-Americans using terrorism in a bid to free Ireland.

O’Hea and comrades were escorting a boxcar, loaded with munitions, from Quebec City to Montreal. Also in the train were more than 800 German immigrants locked in converted boxcars to ensure they didn’t get off before their destination. When the train stopped in Danville station on June 9, the soldiers noticed smoke coming from the boxcar loaded with a couple thousand rounds of ammunition and nearly 100 barrels of gunpowder.  The boxcar was quickly uncoupled and pushed away from the train. The soldiers recognized that would be of little effect if the boxcar were to explode. With that much firepower the passengers, the train and the station would likely be wiped out. However, they were paralyzed by indecision.

O’Hea grabbed the keys from an officer, unlocked the smoking boxcar and pried tops off burning ammunition crates and tossed them outside.  Although he called for help, none came because others feared the boxcar could explode at any moment.  He made 19 trips from the boxcar to a nearby creek to haul buckets of water to douse the flames.  When the fire was finally under control, others finally came to help him and the train was eventually able to continue uneventfully on to Montreal.

O’Hea was presented his Victoria Cross on Jan 1, 1867, for actions and courage “under circumstances of great danger.”  O’Hea died in Australia, where his VC was found lying in a drawer in a museum 76 years later.  O’Hea is memorialized in Winchester, England, where his name inscribed on the Rifle Brigade’s roll of honour in Winchester Cathedral , and his medal reposes in the Royal Green Jackets Museum.

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