…and finally…

TWO strange examples (one alleged) of cross-community activity – a Catholic boy has been charged in relation to his suspected involvement in a loyalist riot. Meanwhile in loyalist Tullycarnet, the infamous loyalist ‘Eddie’ mural has been painted over with a mural of a Catholic – Leading Seaman James Magennis, a war hero who was awarded the Victoria Cross.

  • levee

    Iron Maiden should have sued them for improper use of Eddie.

  • smcgiff

    The Grim Reaper mural was pretty cool though!

    NI has only one VC? Surprised at that.

  • Barcas

    The Beltel article describing James Magennis’ heroism reads:

    “Magennis made a second dangerous dive in
    the freezing waters to free the snagged
    containers holding the limpet mines.”

    The author of the article might be accused of gilding the lily, somewhat. No doubt Magennis’ actions were heroic and well worthy of the VC award, but – freezing waters? in the Johore Straits?

    Its geographical location is 1.22 degrees North, almost on the equator.

    How is it possible that such a daft mistake escapes the editor, proof reader and whoever else saw the article before printing?

  • Mark

    It’s OK, you can still see Eddie on the Lower Shankill, in the Village and (I think) at Bridge End. Always thought that was one of the better loyalist murals, they could have picked a better one to cover.

    NI does have other VCs, there is a list of some of them at the Ulster Division memorial at Thiepval, but almost all were awarded posthumously so this could be the only one awarded to a living person. Possibly.

  • caulfield

    This was the only VC awarded to someone from NI during WW2.

  • Anne Dunne

    According to “Irish Winners of the Victoria Cross” by Richard Doherty and David Truesdale 12% or 170 of the 1351 VC’s awarded since 1837 (it’s inception) have been to Irishmen but a site called http://www.victoriacross.net shows 190 Irish awards.

    IMHO we could build a lot of goodwill across this Island with this kind of shared remembrance. The repainting of this mural with this subject is an excellent idea.

    I stopped by at Thiepval this summer and the team at the Ulster Tower memorial told me how impressed they’d been by the visit of Brigadier-General McNamara from the IDF, who’d laid a fir wreath there.

    In return I’d like to hear some more from our Unionist historians of the other two Irish divisions, which fought in WW1 (i.e. the 16th and 10th). It’s a shame that we think only of the Somme when we think of the 36th and forget, for example, Messines where the 16th and 36th fought side by side.

  • G2

    “NI does have other VCs, there is a list of some of them at the Ulster Division memorial at Thiepval, but almost all were awarded posthumously so this could be the only one awarded to a living person. Possibly.”

    James Magennis is Northern Ireland “ONLY” VC award winner. Up to the present day he is the only citizen from the state of Northern Ireland to be decorated with a Victoria Cross.

    All previous 19th century VC’s and 31 WW1 VC’s were “ALL IRISH “VC’s awarded before the state of Northern ireland was formed.1921/22. The 9 Ulster Division VC’s inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial may be termed “ULSTER” VC’S but not Northern Ireland VC’s

    There are 163 VC’s awarded to All Irish born citizens since 1857 to the present day. This includes five VC’s awarded to citizens of the Irish Free State during WW2.

  • G2

    According to “Irish Winners of the Victoria Cross” by Richard Doherty and David Truesdale 12% or 170 of the 1351 VC’s awarded since 1837 (it’s inception) have been to Irishmen but a site called http://www.victoriacross.net shows 190 Irish awards.”

    170 or 190 is not strictly true. Richard Doherty and David Truesdale included VC’s who were not born in Ireland but were non Irish soldiers who served in Irish Regiments or had one Irish parent.but were born in England. Two or the nine Ulster division VC’s were Englishmen who serving in the 36th Ulster Division.

    The correct number of “Irish born VC’s ” is 163 recorded in a production of 500 books compiled by Farset youth (Community Devolopment LTD back in 1995.

  • G2

    “The author of the article might be accused of gilding the lily, somewhat. No doubt Magennis’ actions were heroic and well worthy of the VC award, but – freezing waters? in the Johore Straits? “

    I would agree the use of the word freezing was not required, however it may not be altogether wrong. Irrespective of geographic location only surface waters are warm in equator locations. 15 to 20 feet beneath the surface the temperature decreases rapidly. This is why all divers wear wetsuits even in the tropics to protect them from the cold.

  • George Fleming


    As my book was launched in the Submarine Museum Gosport 18 months before the Magennis memorial was unveiled in 1999 I am inclosing an update to pages 214-215 of my book ‘Magennis VC’ were it states “A story that must be told elsewhere” . This story is about my campaign with both Castlereagh Borough Council and Belfast City Council to erect official memorials to James Joseph Magennis VC.

    For the benefit of those who never read my book, they need to understand the historical mythology of working class mindset of Protestant Belfast, were heroism is based on Orange military romanticism, from the 1690 Boyne, the 1798 rebellion to the 36th Ulster Division’s VC heroes of WW1 and the 1916 Battle of the Somme. That is one of the cliches of Ulster’s Protestant culture re-acted out annually by 3000 Orange parades during the marching season. *We are the heroes, we are the best and we always win, no surrender* Having a Catholic hero who won the only VC since the state was formed in 1922 did not fit that image. So Belfast’s only WW2 VC hero James Magennis a Catholic, born in West Belfast was politically airbrushed out of history and forgotten since the early 1950’s. I intended to change that myth, first by writing ‘Magennis VC’ and secondly campaigning for an official memorial to the VC navy hero.

    In 1996 no councillor from Castlereagh Council knew Jame Magennis lived in their council area from 1951 to 1955 (32 Carncaver Road) until I wrote to them requesting they erect a plaque on his former home and within the council buildings. Some years earlier Castlereagh council had remembered WW1 hero William McFadzean VC by erecting a plaque on his former parents home on the Cregagh Road. For those interested McFadzean VC was born in Lurgan, his name is remembered on the Lurgan war memorial and on a plaque recently erected by the Lurgan British legion on the wall of the old Lurgan town. I attended the unveiling myself in 1997. Prior to my first contact with Castlereagh council in 1996 (Battle of the Somme 36 Ulster Division WW1 hero) McFadzean VC a Protestant, had some *SIX*memorial plaques to him around Northern Ireland whereas (Belfast’s only WW2 hero) Magennis VC a Catholic, had *NONE*

    Today I give credit to Castlereagh council for honouring both these WW1& WW2 VC’s. Both heroes were not born in Castlereagh but lived in the area sometime in their lives. Castlereagh was part of the greater Belfast corporation in 1945. I also give credit to Castlereagh Council for flying Paul Magennis (son of Magennis VC) and his wife Jean over from Bradford to the reception and the excellent lunch they laid on at the La Mon hotel. A number of WW2 ex servicemen, ex submariners, ex HMS Ganges Boys and myself attended the reception including representatives from both the RNA and the British Legion.

    Now WW2 Magennis VC was remembered in Castlereagh in 1997, but he had still not been officially remembered in Belfast.were he was born. So while researching for a modern historical biography on the Belfast hero, I wrote a short letter to the Belfast Telegraph informing the public he had been forgotten. I received a reply letter from City Hall (which I found most unusual as I had not written to them)
    The letter reads as follows:

    From: Belfast City Hall Chief Executive’s Department Ext 2211
    To: Mr George Fleming 545a lisburn Road Belfast BT97GQ Date 23 rd September 1996.

    Dear Mr Fleming

    You wrote recently to the Belfast Telegraph on the subject of a plaque being erected to commemorate leading Seaman Magennis.

    The Ulster History Circle, with financial support from the Belfast City Council, has recently erected in Belfast plaques to commemorate Lord Kelvin and Robert MacAdam and will shortly be unveiling a further plaque to James Young.  It is the Ulster History Circle’s policy, however, not to erect a plaque until a person has been dead for twenty years and as Leading Seaman Magennis only died in 1986 the Circle would not be able to erect a plaque to him at this stage.

    I am sure Belfast City Council would support the erection of a plaque to Leading Seaman Magennis after the appropriate period of time so that this courageous citizen is suitably commemorated.

    In the meantime there is a photograph of Leading Seaman Magennis on display outside the Council Chamber in the City with an inscription which records his heroic deeds. I would be pleased to show the photograph to you at a time suitable to you and to discuss your suggestion further. My telephone number is 320202 (extension 2211)

    Your sincerely
    Members Services Manager

    The Chief Executive dept role is to serve the wishes of council, not the other way round. It was obvious the contents of this letter was totally out of order and not normal protocol. How come the Ulster History Circle erected a plaque on Elton John’s former home in East Belfast and he is still alive, yet Northern Ireland’s only VC winner had to be dead 20 year before a plaque could be erected? The lettter smelled of bigotry and deception, and in my opinion was sent to me on behalf of a few councillors who didn’t wish to draw attention to themselves. I refused to accept the content of this letter, little did they know my determination to carry campaigning on regardless.

    When Magennis VC died in 1986 there had been a few who raised voices regards a memorial to the local Royal naval VC hero . Gerry Haigh (member of the Submarine Association & Belfast RNA ) was the only ex-serviceman from Belfast who attended Magennis’s funeral service in Bradford of that year. He told Eddie McLlwaine of the Belfast Telegraph ‘It would be good and proper that James’s home City should honour his name. I’d say Belfast should have paid their respects before anyone else thought of it’  (Belfast Telegraph 17 October 1986)

    The Irish Times (10 December 1986) under the heading ‘Belfast War Hero Ignored, Remembered in Bradford’ noted ‘ James Magennis who left his home in Belfast thirty years ago to live in Yorkshire was commemorated at a service in the Anglican Cathedral in Bradford on Sunday without any official recognition from his native City.’

    Nothing came out of these raised voices, except, that two Unionist councillors hung a small photograph with an attached tiny brass inscription measuring three inches by one inch in the robing room of the City Hall.  It was hidden from public view and could only be viewed by tourists. As the letter from the Chief Executive’s Department stated individual Belfast citizens had to make a request to the City Hall to see it. The bluff worked in 1986, but this recent attempt to bluff me, only increased my determination to campaign further.

    I decided it was time for more action.  So I sent copies of material I uncovered in the newspaper library while researching for Magennis VC’s biography to all 51 City Hall councillors, to 18 MP’s and a few members of the House of Lords, including ex WW2 naval officers Lord Lewin ‘The First Sea lord’, former prime Minister Lord Callaghan of Cardiff and also Commander Ian Fraser VC  DSC (Magennis’s CO Operation Struggle 1945).

    The records of the 6th December 1945 News Letter & Northern Whig covering the City Corporation November meeting of that year reads as follows: “Councillor Clark Scott proposed:  

    ‘The City has conferred the freedom of the City on many notable personages and now you have the  opportunity of honouring one of the common people. Leading Seaman Magennis has preformed a great feat and his heroism should be recognised by the citizens. I move that the General purposes Committee should consider the question of conferring the Freedom’

    The Lord Mayor Sir Crawford McCullagh replied to Councillor Scott:
    ‘ The General Purposes committee will consider it. They will do it without your asking’
    Scott replied:
    ‘But I am not a member of that committee and I am intitled to move the motion’
    The Lord Mayor:
    ‘That is not how the Freedom of the City is conferred.’
    Councillor Clark Scott:
    ‘But this is Mr Magennis, not Alexander or Mongomery.’
    The matter was dropped.”
    (end of newspaper article)

    This was substantial evidence that unknown to todays general public a proposal had been made for freedom of the City for Magennis but was rejected by the corporation back in November1945.  What was well known and had been widely publicised even to this very day was that the Lord Mayor had set up a ‘shilling fund’ shortly afterwards.  The generous Belfast citizens collected £3000 for Magennis.  However this fund was the Lord Mayor’s own contrivance and not the Corporation. What did it say for the Corporation who refused their only returning WW2 VC hero Freedom of his native Belfast and instead left it to the common people to collect money for him? The shame lay with the 1945 Corporation. I therefore informed the 51 councillors surely all would agree that one way of eradicating that shame would be for the present City Council to erect a memorial to their forgotten WW2  VC hero.

    I also emphasised that in the present times this need not cost the rate payers one penny as art, lottery and community relations grants are all available for such projects, and what an exellent community relations project it would make. Over a period of two years I received many letters of support. Here is a list of names of a few I received:

    1  Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin
    2 Rear Admiral Tony Whetstone (President of SOCA)
    3  Rear Admiral RP Stevens (Flag officer Submarines)
    4  Commander Ian fraser VC  (Magennis VC’s C/0 in operational struggle)
    5 Commodore RAG Clare (Commanding officer Britannia Royal naval Colers
    8 Lieutenant Commander MLC Browning Royal Navy
    9  Rt Hon Lord Callaghan of Cardiff  KC  (House of Lords)

    As a ratepaying Belfast citizen I used the official right to make a written proposal on 10 December 1996 to City Hall.Belfast. After much debate over my letter at many ‘policies and resources committee’ meetings a memorial to James Magennis was eventually approved. Recorded in the minutes Friday 24th January 1997 “councillor Cobain made a proposal for a single memorial to James Magennis VC seconded by councillor Maginness, eight members voted for the proposal and none against, it was accordingly declared carried”.

    Belfast sculptor Elizabeth Mc Loughlin’s proposed design was chosen as winner of a competition to sculpt a memorial and on October 1999 the Lord Mayor Robert Stoker unveiled a 6ft memorial of bronze and portland stone to Magennis VC in the City hall grounds. This today stands proudly beside the statue to Queen Victoria in front of the main building. The sculptor requested I write out the inscription which was engraved into the Portland Stone memorial. Inscription reads: ‘This memorial commemorates Britain’s highest award for valour ‘THE VICTORIA CROSS’ to Belfastman and ex-HMS Ganges boy Leading Seaman James Joseph Magennis DJX 144905 for outstanding bravery whilst serving as a diver in HM Submarine XE3 for her attack on the heavy Japanese cruiser TAKAO “Operation Struggle” Johore Strait, Singapore on July 31 1945. King George V1 presented the award on the 15th December 1945 at Buckingham Palace.’
    I therefore give credit to the Belfast City Council for at last commemorating Northern Ireland’s only VC winner since the state was formed in 1922, and Belfast’s only VC hero of the 20th century.

    The name of the person who wrote the letter from City Hall Belfast on 23 rd September 1996 has been kept anonymous as he has been most helpful to the Northern Ireland branch of the Submariners Association committee officers John Erskine, Davy George, Dan McGrady, Douglas Erskine and John Marks and Jack McAllister Chairman Bangor Branch RNA who all have to be congratulated for helping organise a coming Magennis VC memorial dinner in City Hall in 2006. The letter writer’s good name has been exonerated. However, in saying that, had I believed this letter sent to me from City hall back in 1996, there would have been no Memorial erected to Magennis in 1999 or even today. Instead we would still be waiting for the Ulster History circle to erect a small blue plaque in the James Magennis’s memory.

    Conclusion: I won my campaign to have the first and only official memorial to be erected in the whole of Northern Ireland to a common Catholic from West Belfast in the hallowed grounds of Belfast City Hall. Once only reserved in the past for those Protestant elite upper classes. My reason for writing both biography and campaign for a memorial to the VC submariner hero was to try and recorrect an Ulster myth, propagated by many Unionist Politicans for selfish political gain when electioneering for local council and westminister seats since 1922, that only Ulster (Orange) Protestants could be VC military heroes serving HMG, and somehow make a crooked myth straight, confirming that Catholics could be British military heroes just as well.

    So in that spirit I add this quote from THEODORE ROOSEVELT (Paris Sorbonne,1910) “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy course; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

    I could have easily failed to have Magennis VC published and lost in the memorial campaign, had I not met numerous wonderful people along the way, who wanted to help me make a crooked myth straight.

    Finally, this recent good news of Joe Oliver article http://www.sundaylife.co.uk/news/story.jsp?story=662067 and photographs recorded on http://nisubs.co.uk/news.htm of a wall mural commemorating James Magennis in an East Belfast loyalist estate being unveiled by Peter Robinson MP is the cream on top of the cake. This visual propagation along with the memorial I campaigned for at City Hall Belfast will help community relations between the sectarian divide on the whole Island of Ireland.

    George Fleming.

    Author ‘Magennis VC’

  • George Fleming

    Correction to last post.

    The statement Elton John’s former home in East Belfast should read Van Morrison instead.

  • Denny Boy

    “The statement Elton John’s former home in East Belfast should read Van Morrison instead.”


    George, might I offer my congrats on your courageous and dogged campaign, which disproves the myth that you can’t fight City Hall.

    Your experience shines a little more light into the murky world of unionist middle-class bigotry, and hopefully shames one or two people.

    There’s a tendency to demonize the unionist working classes, whose kerbstone painting, flag-flying and rioting is all too visible.

    The unionist middle classes ought to be leading the fight against sectarianism, rather than continuing to wage their own sneaky little sectarian war.

    Well done!

  • George Fleming

    “George, might I offer my congrats on your courageous and dogged campaign, which disproves the myth that you can’t fight City Hall”.

    Many thanks Denny Boy. I appreciate your kind comments. It sure proves sometimes the pen can be mighter than the sword, bomb or limpet mine.



  • Gavin Bamford

    George Fleming undertook an excellant task and the memorial to Magennis VC in Belfast City hall is a wonderful monument. His long item in this thread has one error in it that needs correcting i.e.:

    “…. How come the Ulster History Circle erected a plaque on Van Morrison’s former home in East Belfast and he is still alive …”.

    Although I am not a member of the UHC, they did (with my help) erect a Blue Circle to another Irish VC – English VC on Kings Road, Belfast recently. I referred this thread to them and they (UHC) state ” …. The rumour that we put up a plaque to Van Morrison is totally unfounded …. “.

    George also posted his item on another VC forum and on it (if he looks) is an offer from the UHC to erect a Blue Circle on a home of Magennis VC in 2006 (when he has been dead 20 years).

    It would be nice if George took up that offer and completed his project.

    Gavin Bamford

  • George Fleming

    ” Although I am not a member of the UHC, they did (with my help) erect a Blue Circle to another Irish VC – English VC on Kings Road, Belfast recently. I referred this thread to them and they (UHC) state ” …. The rumour that we put up a plaque to Van Morrison is totally unfounded …. “.

    Thank you Gavin Correction: The brass plaque commemorating were Van Morrison lived was installed at 125 Hyndford Street by the Blues Appreciation Society and not the UHC. http://www.inyourpocket.com/ni/belfast/en/venue?id=NIBFENX0053.

    However, the letter to me from City Hall Chief Executive’s Department Ext 2211 on
    23 rd September 1996 proves certain Unionist City fathers were still attempting to pass the buck onto the UHC without wanting to remember Magennis VC officially themselves. A rerun of 50 years previous, when the Lord Mayor, Sir Crawford McCullagh passed the buck onto the common people to collect money for their returning WW2 VC while at the same time the corporation refused the Belfast VC hero freedom of the City.because of his class & creed.

    Its also nice to know the UHC are not the only ones who erect historical plaque’s on walls. Castlereagh District Council have already erected a brass plaque on the former home of Magennis VC in Clonduff estate Castlereagh in 1997. In the same year another group in Co Armagh erected a plaque in memory of rear Admiral Lucas ( Irelands first VC). last year, I attended a VC commemoration (organised by a retired Irish Army captain) cermony (erecting a gravestone) to Colour Sergeant Cornelius Coughlan VC in Westport Co Mayo.

    Anyway congratulations getting the UHC to erect a plaque on the former home of John English VC in Kings Road East Belfast. Born in Cork 1982 he lived there in the 19 century as a boy when he attended Cambell College.

    There are numerous Irish VC’s (mostly 19 century and many of them Catholic even in Ulster) who are still waiting to be remembered.in the place they were born. But its up individuals who live in areas were these VC;s were born or died) to research and take their cases up with local councils.

    If I had a magic wand I would wave it and all 163 irish VC’s would be remembered some way or other. But alas that is not possible.


    George Fleming

  • George Fleming

    Correction Lieutenant Colonel John English VC was born 1882 (not 1992) He died at sea near Egypt January 1941 (aged 59).
    This interesting officer born in Cork who attended Campbell College in Belfast as a boy served in three wars, the Boer (South African) war, WW1 and died in WW2.


  • Concerned Loyalist

    I forgot to comment when Frankie Gallagher of the UPRG and Peter Robinson of the DUP amongst others unveiled this new mural in Tullycarnet. Progressive mural painting is something I’ve advocated for a while now. “Eddie” the Trooper with the grim reaper in the background is a visually stunning piece of loyalist imagery but can be scary for youngsters and could be viewed as intimidating to non-loyalists.

    I am not concerned about Magennis’s religion and believe he deserves to be honoured in this way in an overwhelmingly loyalist UDA stronghold. It goes a little way towards showing the world that us loyalists are not just sectarian bigots!

  • foreign correspondent

    The purpose of World War One was what exactly?

  • Concerned Loyalist

    What is your point? Magennis was awarded the V.C. for bravery in World War II

  • Dread Cthulhu

    ForCorre: “The purpose of World War One was what exactly?”

    So far as I can tell, it was to demonstrate that Bismark’s system of treaties to prevent European war was foolproof, thereby creating an “improved” grade of fools for which it wasn’t rated. In short, by supressing broad, general conflicts, it allowed a whole swath of European leaders to feel gutsy and commit their nations to a truly ruinous war. Secondly, it demonstrated the generally flat learning curve of European generals, who committed their forces to repeated human wave assaults in the face of heavily fortified positions, machine guns, et. al., when the ruinous cost of such assaults were demonstrated at least 50 years prior with the American Civil War.

    As a side note, this learning curve remained flat into WW2, as demonstrated by the poor armored doctrine evidenced in the Battle of France, where Allied armor was deployed in breadth and not en masse, as under Guderian’s model. Allied armor was deployed largely as mobile pillboxes intended to aid in infantry assaults, hence the slow speed of the otherwise effective Matlida Mk2 and the French Char B-1 bis.

  • George Fleming

    “It would be nice if George took up that offer and completed his project.”

    My 4 year project first started in 1995 was completed first by having “Magennis VC” published in 1998 and secondly by ending a successful campaign to persuade Belfast City Council to erect a bronze and portland stone OFFICIAL memorial in the grounds of City Hall 11 weeks before the dawning of a new century on 8 October 1999.

    I would have had to wait to 2006 (next year) when Magennis VC was dead 20 years before I could approach the UHC to request them to erect a blue plaque.

    I will leave that to the UHC or someone else to follow in my footsteps next year if they so wish.

    George Fleming