The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration for valour in the face of the enemy awarded to members of the British armed forces. It is usually presented at Buckingham Palace to the recipient or a representative of the recipient. The VC was introduced in 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War.
There were three men with Meath connections awarded the Victoria Cross during World War I.
Maurice James Dease of Culmullen House was one of the first British officer battle casualties of the war and the first posthumous recipient of the VC of the war. A lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers, Dease defended the bridge at Nimy, north of Mons, against an attack by the Germans. The gunfire was intense, and the casualties were heavy, but the Lieutenant went on firing in spite of his wounds, until he was hit for the 5th time and was carried away to a place of safety where he died. A private, S. F. Godley, of the same Battalion, who had been assisting the Lieutenant while he was still able to operate the guns, took over, and alone he used the gun to such a good effect that he covered the retreat of his comrades. A plaque was erected in 2010 to commemorate Dease in Culmullen Church.
John Dunville was the second son of John Dunville, Holywood, Co. Down, and Sion, Navan Co. Meath and his wife, Violet, daughter of Gustavus Lambart of Beauparc, Co. Meath. The family owned a large distilling company in Belfast. John Dunville was aged twenty one when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 24/25 June 1917 near Epehy, France. When in charge of a party consisting of Scouts and Royal Engineers engaged in the demolition of the enemy’s wire Dunville placed himself between the N.C.O. of the Royal Engineers and the enemy’s fire, and thus protected, this N.C.O. was enabled to complete a work of great importance. Dunville, although severely wounded, continued to direct his men in the wire-cutting and general operations until the raid was successfully completed. He remained conscious but died from his wounds the next day. The Victoria Cross which he was posthumously awarded was received by his father, John Dunville, from King George V at Buckingham Palace in August 1917. His name appears on the roll of honour in St. Mary’s Church, Navan.
Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey was born in Athboy in 1888, the son of the clergyman. Alfred T. Harvey served as rector of Athboy from 1885 until 1898. He had previously served as curate in Trim. Educated at Portora Royal High School and Ellesmere College, Harvey played rugby for both Wander’s and Ireland. Harvey emigrated to Canada in 1908 and worked as a surveyor. In 1915 he joined the Canadian Mounted Rifles. Harvey was posted to the Western Front in 1916. He was awarded the Victoria Cross following an incident in March 1917 at the village of Guyencourt. During an attack by his regiment on the village, a party of the enemy ran forward to a wired trench just in front of the village, and opened rapid fire and machine-gun fire at a very close range, causing heavy casualties in the leading troop. At this critical moment, when the enemy showed no intention whatever of retiring, and fire was still intense, Lt. Harvey, who was in command of the leading troops, ran forward well ahead of his men and dashed at the trench, jumped the wire, shot the machine-gunner and captured the gun. His most courageous act undoubtedly had a decisive effect on the success of the operations. Harvey was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Order but this was later upgraded to a VC. For an action in1918 Harvey was awarded the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre. After the war Harvey remained on with the Canadian Army, reaching the rank of Brigadier General in 1939. He died in Calgary, Alberta in 1980 aged 91. 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.
A relative of the Tisdalls of Charlesfort, Kells, Sub-Lt. A.W. St. Clair Tisdall, won the V.C. for distinguished gallantry at Gallipoli, in rescuing under heavy fire, several wounded men on the beach during the landing from the “River Clyde” on 25 April 1915.
Other Meath holders of V.C.s were Patrick Donohoe and Frederick Augustus Smith. Patrick Donohoe won his V.C. during the Indian mutiny of 1857. He died at Ashbourne in 1876 and is buried in Donaghmore graveyard in an unmarked grave. Frederick Smith of Duleek won his V.C. for actions in the Maori campaigns in New Zealand in 1864. Smith died in 1887 and was buried in Duleek but his grave is not marked.