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Rowland Bourke

Rowland Bourke was born in England in 1885 and immigrated to Canada in 1902 as a young man. When the First World War erupted in August 1914, the British Columbian attempted to enlist in the Canadian military but was rejected due to his poor eyesight. Determined to serve, he returned to England and was able to enlist in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

On May 9-10, 1918, Lieutenant Bourke was commanding Motor Launch 276 when the events that would earn him a Victoria Cross occurred. The British had attempted an operation to block the port of Ostend, Belgium so it could not be used by the Germans who were occupying it. In the aftermath of the daring but bloody naval assault, Bourke took his ship into the enemy harbour to look for any remaining survivors of the raid.

“… 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, in the water, clinging to an upended skiff, and rescued them. During all this time the motor launch was under a very heavy fire at close range, being hit in 55 places, once by a 6 inch shell—two of her small crew being killed and others wounded. The vessel was seriously damaged and speed greatly reduced. Lieutenant Bourke, however, managed to bring her out and carry on…”

- Victoria Cross citation in The London Gazette, August 27, 1918

Rowland Bourke during the First World War. (Photo: Public Domain)

Rowland Bourke during the First World War.
(Photo: Public Domain)

Bourke left the military after the war and returned to British Columbia. His interest in naval matters continued, however, and he helped organize the “Fishermen’s Reserve” to help patrol the west coast.

When the Second World War erupted in 1939, Bourke would serve as a recruiting officer before returning to sea in 1941 with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve. He commanded ships and naval bases during the conflict and finally ended his military career in 1950.

Bourke died in 1958 and is buried at Royal Oak Burial Park in Victoria, British Columbia. A mountain on Vancouver Island is named in his honour.

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