The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

THERE is one place in Dewsbury where the name Sgt John William Ormsby, VC, will never be forgotten – the Irish National Club in Westtown where he was a life-long member.

On Saturday, November 10, Sgt Ormsby’s grandson and namesake, Mr John William Ormsby, will display a replica collection of his grandfather’s medals at the club.

Sombre ceremony: Dewsbury's VC, Sgt John William Ormsby, pays tribute to the fallen whose names are inscribed on the Cenotaph at Crow Nest Park in 1950.

Sombre ceremony: Dewsbury's VC, Sgt John William Ormsby, pays tribute to the fallen whose names are inscribed on the Cenotaph at Crow Nest Park in 1950.

The following day, he will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in Crow Nest Park, where his grandfather had also paid tribute to the fallen.

The photograph, taken in 1950, shows Sgt Ormsby, laying a wreath in memory of the men he always said were the “real heroes”, those who had never come home.

Sgt Ormsby, who died in 1952, had survived the war to return home to his wife Catherine and two children, Lena and John.

Some years after his death, his son John (Mr Ormsby’s father) presented the Victoria Cross and Military Medal to the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Museum in York.

“My dad made this decision because he was worried my grandfather’s medals might get lost one day. People were always coming to the house to borrow them to show at various events.

“He was always worried one day they’d go missing. Keeping them in the house was a big responsibility for him.”

“My granddad was a very religious man and used to go to Mass every day.

“He died in his sleep, aged 71, and I remember clearly the day of his military funeral.

“A gun carriage carried his coffin from the church to the cemetery where there was a line of soldiers standing to attention at the top of the cemetery, looking across the valley.

“It was a scene I will never forget although I was only 11 years old.

“I saw the soldiers lower his coffin into the grave, and I watched them fire their rifles over his grave.”

Sgt Ormsby had been a professional soldier who had also fought in the Boer War and had won the Military Medal as well as the VC.

There was also another Dewsbury VC, Pte Horace Waller, from Batley Carr, who was killed in 1917 and whose VC was presented to his parents by King George V at Buckingham Palace.

Next week I will be writing more fully about this brave soldier who was only 20 when he was killed in France.

Another Westtown soldier, Sgt Joe Breheney, a life-long friend of Sgt Ormsby, was awarded the Military Medal for outstanding bravery.

The two friends had attended St Paulinus School and had been members of the Irish National Club which they had joined as young men.

It was no surprise therefore that the club and the school would be among the first places they would visit after being awarded their medals.

An account of their visit to St Paulinus School, appeared in the Reporter in 1917, and when it was published, the war still raging and local men were still being killed daily.

The children were well-prepared for the visit of their illustrious former pupils, and were vigorously waving flags and cheering enthusiastically as they were led into the school by Fr Mitchell, parish priest.

The following is a report of their visit:

“There was a scene of great enthusiasm at St Paulinus School yesterday when Sgt Ormsby VC visited them, accompanied by Sgt Joe Breheney MM.

“They were given an immense reception by the children who were waving flags and giving free vent to their enthusiasm.

“Sgt Ormsby asked for a show of hands of those with fathers or brothers in France.

“The forest of little hands which shot up was ample evidence that few were without.

“He asked them to pray night and morning for their fathers and brothers and for all those soldiers at the Front who were doing their best.

“Their prayers would help them and so he urged them to do their best and never forget their old school – St Paulinus.

“Sgt Ormsby introduced his old pal Sgt Breheney who had been “out there” with him, fighting side by side for almost three years.

“He said Sgt Breheney had won the Military medal for one of the bravest actions done in France.

“He had volunteered with two more lads to risk their lives in order to put a troublesome machine gun out of action and they succeeded.

“They killed three soldiers and brought back three prisoners and for this he deserves far more than a Military Medal.

“He should have been the first VC hero to come from Dewsbury, said Sgt Ormsby.

“Sgt Breheney told the children it was the best moment of his life to be standing that day before all the scholars of his old school.

“He was pleased a member of his old school had won the VC and hoped the school would have one or two more VCs.

“Father Mitchell, ended the day’s proceedings by saying that Sgt Ormsby would be asking the Education Committee to give the school a holiday in honour of the event.

“This announcement was met with loud cheers.”

○ NEXT week I will publish a full report of how Sgt Ormsby and Pte Waller, whose name is inscribed on the Crow Nest Park Cenotaph, gained their VCs.

And to remind those wishing to attend the Remembrance Service at Dewsbury Minster Church on Sunday, November 11, it starts at 10.30am, followed by a Parade to the Cenotaph where wreaths will be laid at 12.15pm.