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Webmatters : Michael O'Rourke VC Memorial at Loos-en-Gohelle
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Michael O'Rourke VC

Location

Loos-en-Gohelle (Commonly but inaccurately called simply Loos by visitors) is situated just to the north of Lens. From Arras take the N 17 in the direction of Lens following the new road system around Vimy village. At Avion you will enter the A 211 autoroute (and pass the Green Crassier immediately on your left) this will then change to the A 21 — following Lens (Ouest).

At Sortie No 9 Lens (Nord) leave the autoroute and turn right at the junction for La Bassée. You are now driving along the ridge of Hill 70. The summit is now the roundabout near the hospital. At this roundabout turn left for Loos-en-Gohelle (scene of the famous battle in 1915).

The plaque is very easily missed as it is on a small wall on your right just before the first house. Note there are two plaques — the other to Robert Hanna VC.

Memorial plaques to O'Rourke VC and Hanna VC at Loos

 

Background

On 15th August 1917 the Canadian Corps successfully seized the entire ridge from the Germans in its first battle under the command of Sir Arthur Currie.

Objectives had been set on the map marked by coloured lines. Green was the final objective and because the 2nd Brigade had the greatest distance to advance they had an intermediary line called the Red Line.

By 0600 hours all the attacking battalions were either on the Green or Red Line and there was now a further pause of twenty minutes before the 7th and 8th Battalions moved forward from the Red Line on towards their own final objective.

It was only now that the Canadians ran into difficulties. Their smoke screen had dissipated and the defenders had rallied from their initial shock. They swept the Canadians with heavy machine gun fire and the Canadians were forced to take cover in shell holes losing contact with their rolling barrage.

On the left, the 7th (1st British Columbia) Battalion were required to take a small quarry but it was well garrisoned and although some local success was had the majority of the battalion like the 8th Battalion on its right were forced back to the Red Line.

Michael O’Rourke was a stretcher bearer with the 7th Battalion and despite the unceasing enemy fire set about his work.

The advance by 1st Division

The Quarry has been lost under the new commercial centre but would have been near the location of the Lenshotel up in Lens II shopping centre.

It would be taken the following day by the 10th Battalion who would also sustain high casualties.

 

The Memorial

Michael O’Rourke’s citation for the Victoria Cross reads:

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during prolonged operations.

For three days and nights Private O’Rourke, who is a stretcher-bearer, worked unceasingly in bringing the wounded into safety, dressing them, and getting them food and water.

During the whole of his period the area in which he worked was subjected to very severe shelling and swept by heavy machine gun and rifle fire. On several occasions he was knocked down and partially buried by enemy shells. Seeing a comrade who had been blinded stumbling around ahead of our trench, in full view of the enemy who were sniping him, Private O’Rourke jumped out of his trench and brought the man back, being himself heavily sniped at while doing so. Again he went forward about 50 yards in front of our barrage under very heavy and accurate fire from enemy machine guns and snipers, and brought in a comrade. On a subsequent occasion, when the line of advanced posts was retired to the line to be consolidated, he went forward under very heavy enemy fire of every description and brought back a wounded man who had been left behind.

He showed throughout an absolute disregard for his own safety, going wherever there were wounded to succour, and his magnificent courage and devotion in continuing his rescue work, in spite of exhaustion and the incessant heavy enemy fire of every description, inspired all ranks and undoubtedly saved many lives.

The plaque was presented by the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own) Association on the 7th September 2008.

 

The other memorials in this area