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Michael O'Leary

First World War recruiting poster featuring Michael O'Leary, VC. (Photo: Public Domain)

First World War recruiting poster featuring Michael O'Leary, VC. (Photo: Public Domain)

Michael O'Leary was born in Ireland in 1888. As a young man he served in the British military before immigrating to Canada in 1913 to join the Northwest Mounted Police. When the First World War erupted in Europe in August 1914, he returned to Great Britain to rejoin the British Army's Irish Guards.

By November 1914 he was serving on the Western Front and would see heavy action in the months that followed. On February 1, 1915, Lance Corporal O'Leary was part of an attempt to retake some captured trenches near Cuinchy, France. Enemy machine guns were taking a heavy toll on the men when O'Leary took it upon himself to eliminate these deadly positions on his own.

"When forming one of the storming party which advanced against the enemy's barricades he rushed to the front and himself killed five Germans who were holding the first barricade, after which he attacked a second barricade, about 60 yards further on, which he captured, after killing three of the enemy and making prisoners of two more. Lance-Corporal O'Leary thus practically captured the enemy's position by himself and prevented the attacking party from being fired upon."

- Victoria Cross citation in The London Gazette, February 16, 1915

O'Leary survived the battle and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his brave actions to considerable public acclaim. This was not the end of his military career, however, and he would continue to serve in uniform during the war. He spent time in the Balkans where he unfortunately contracted malaria which would affect his health for the rest of his life.

After being released from the British Army in 1921 he went back to Canada to again work as a police officer before later returning to Britain. He would serve again in the Second World War, spending time commanding a prisoner of war camp in southern England. O'Leary worked as a building contractor after the war and died in 1961. He is buried in the Mill Hill Cemetery near London, England.

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