Frederick Harvey V.C.

Frederick Harvey
Canadian Ambassador at unveiling of plaque to Frederick Harvey 2017 in Athboy

Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey was born in Athboy on 1 September 1888. His father, Alfred Thomas Harvey was born in Cork in 1843 and became a curate at Trim in 1868. He then served at St. Ann’s, Dublin before returning to Meath where he became incumbent at Kentstown in 1878.  Alfred T. Harvey served as rector of Athboy from 1885 until his death in 1898 aged 54. Other children of the family included George Alfred Duncan, Frank Newenham and Dora Kathleen Beatrice, all of whom were born and baptised in Meath.  Seven sons were born to the couple. His brother, George A. Duncan Harvey, played rugby for Ireland and achieved the rank of Major General. George served as a Major and Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War and finished the war in Gibraltar. He was given the honour of Companion of the order of St. Michael and St. George. He died at Colchester in 1957.  His brother, Arnold, became Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin 1933-35 and later bishop of Waterford and Cashel 1935-58.

Educated at Portora Royal High School and Ellesmere College, Frederick Harvey played rugby for both Wander’s and Ireland. In 1907 Fred Harvey was first selected for Ireland v Wales at Cardiff while still at school, and was noted as being one of the best of an Irish side that was thoroughly outclassed.

Fred emigrated to Canada in 1908 and worked as a surveyor and rancher in the Stand Off district, south of Lethbridge, but returned to Ireland in 1911, and was selected to play at fullback v France. He did not have a good match (won by Ireland 25-5), but it was acknowledged that he was new to the position. Fred’s surveying work took him into the north country of Alberta and also at High River.

He returned to Canada, where he married Winifred Patterson in Fort McLeod in 1914.  In 1915 Fred became Private Frederick Harvey with the 23rd Alberta Rangers, a militia unit also known as the Canadian Mountain Rifles He enlisted at Medicine Hat, Alberta in 1916 joining the Canadian Mounted Rifles and was commissioned later that year, transferring in November 1916 to Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians).

Then, with the support of guns from the Horse Artillery, they captured the town at bayonet point. The final objective of the Strathcona’s was the high ground around the town of Guyencourt and Grebaussart Wood where Germans were firmly entrenched.

A heavy snowstorm delayed the attack until 5:15 am of March 27th. With Guyencourt clearly in view, the Strathconas charged onto a ridge to the left of and in front of the town. As they closed in they found an enemy trench protected by three rows of barbed wire.

Then, the Germans ran forward and opened fire with rifles and machine guns, inflicting heavy casualties on the Strathconas. Swerving temporarily to the northwest corner of the village, they took advantage temporarily, of its walls for cover.

When they renewed the attack, Fred Harvey, who commanded the leading troop of the attacking Strathconas, was riding well ahead of his men, when he suddenly found himself the target of an enemy machine gun firing from a trench protected by barbed wire.

At this critical moment, when the enemy showed no intention whatever of retiring, and fire was still intense, Harvey, who was in command of the leading troops, jumped down from his horse and began running across the open ground towards the machine gun, firing his pistol as he ran. He jumped the barbed wire strung in front of the trench, shot the machine gunner and captured the gun, turning the machine gun on the remaining enemy soldiers who fled for their lives. This most courageous act undoubtedly had a decisive effect on the success of the operations. Harvey was originally awarded the Distinguished Service Order but this was later upgraded to a VC. The VC was introduced in 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War. The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration for valour in the face of the enemy given to members of the British armed forces. On 7 June Harvey was presented with the VC ribbon by Brigadier-General L.B. Seeley, Commander of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.It is usually presented at Buckingham Palace to the recipient or a representative of the recipient. Harvey was present with the VC  by George V at Buckingham Palace on 21 July 1917.

Harvey later received the Military Cross for his part in the Strathconas charge against German positions near Moreuil Wood on 30 March 1918, the same engagement for which Gordon Flowerdew was awarded the Victoria Cross. The French Government also conferred on Harvey the Croix de Guerre. Harvey was presented with the Military Cross on 10 July 1919 by the king.

His wife Winifred had followed her husband to Europe and worked in an ammunition factory. After the war Harvey trained as a physical-education instructor and in 1927 he was sent to Kingston, Ontario. Harvey stayed on with the Canadian Army, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1938 and took command of the Lord Stathcona’s Horse. During the pre-war period Harvey went to England for a six-moth course for senior officers at Sheerness. Soon after the war broke out he was promoted to Brigadier and in November 1940 he was appointed district officer commanding Military District Number 13, one of the most important Canadian commands. In 1943 Harvey created controversy when he was severely critical of teaching methods, Canadian home life and the young men he commanded. During this time his wife lived in Britain and looked after the wounded. In 1944 Harvey went to England  for a two and half month tour with the Canadian Army. Harvey’s only son, Lt. Dennis Harvey, was killed in action in northern Europe in 1945.

In December 1945  Harvey retired from the army. Lt. Col. Ian McNab of the Lord Stathcona’s Horse said of Harvey: “He came here an immigrant, married locally, went to war and came back a hero. He has really been the father of the regiment. He was an excellent example of officer-like qualities, had a tremendous sense of humour and loyalty to the military.” He was a tall man, quiet, very determined and always seeking perfection in his command.

He maintained an active interest in horses as a judge of hunter and jumper competitions, travelling to Ireland, Australia and New Zealand and was Honorary Colonel of Lord Strathcona’s Horse from 1958 to 1966. Harvey died on 21 August 1980, in the Colonel Belcher Hospital in Calgary, and is buried in Union Cemetery, Fort McLeod, Alberta, Canada aged 91. A full military honours service took place at St. Stephen’s Church on 13 September and at the parade grounds at Sarcee Barracks. The service included a riderless horse with a pair of riding boots reversed in the stirrups to symbolize a fallen soldier.   His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Military Museums, Calgary. It is the only V.C. currently on display in the world that shows both sides of the medal.

Harvey’s name is commemorated in Calgary where a barracks is named after him. In 1949 a mountain peak of 2438m (8000ft.) in the Canadian Rockies, located at the head of Little Berland River, 2 km northwest of Mount Hunter in Alberta was named Mount Harvey in honour of Fred Harvey.

Athboy 100, are proud to announce that on Friday 20th October at 4pm a plaque will be unveiled to commemorate Lt. Frederick M. Harvey in the grounds of St. James Church of Ireland. The memorial will be unveiled by his His Excellence Mr. Kevin Vickers, Canadian Ambassador to Ireland. The arranging and installation of the memorial has been the result of work spearheaded by Bernard Walsh of the Athboy 100 committee with local Cllr. David Gilroy and members of the local Church of Ireland.

12 May 2017 – Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla have taken part in a ceremony to unveil remembrance stones to Irish-born Victoria Cross recipients of World War I.  They were accompanied by Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys at Glasnevin Cemetery.  They attended the unveiling of Victoria Cross paving stones in memory of four Irish-born soldiers – Corporal John Cunningham, Company Sergeant Major Robert Hill Hanna, Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey and Private Michael James O’Rourke.  The soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917.