Vancouver Was Awesome: Private Mickey O’Rourke, VC (1874-1957)

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A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.

Private Michael James O’Rourke, VC, MM, 1917

Mickey O’Rourke, VC, MM (1875-1957)

In 1917, Michael James “Mickey” O’Rourke became the first British Columbian and the oldest person to be awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour in the British Empire. He emigrated from Ireland to BC and worked as a hard rock miner and logger before enlisting in WWI. Private O’Rourke was a stretcher bearer and earned the award for retrieving and nursing wounded soldiers on the battlefield under heavy enemy fire for three days and nights straight. On several occasions he found himself buried from the artillery raining down around him.

O’Rourke was only able to work intermittently after the war due to shell shock (PTSD) and other health problems that followed him home from battle. He spent the rest of his days living on the skids in what’s now Vancouver Downtown Eastside. He managed to snub the royals on more than one occasion and in 1935 led the march of longshoremen that erupted into the Battle of Balantyne Pier. His funeral drew a huge crowd that included the most prominent Vancouverites alongside his homeless drinking buddies from the East End.

To commemorate the centenary of WWI, O’Rourke and another VC recipient buried in Burnaby’s Forest Lawn Cemetery are getting shiny new headstones. The unveiling takes place this coming Tuesday, 26 August, 10:00 am at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Source: Photo from Douglas A. Melville, Canadians and the Victoria Cross (St. Catharines, ON: Vanwell Publishing, 1987)

 

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