Maurice James Dease VC
Born in Coole, County Westmeath, Ireland on on 28 September, 1889, James was the son of Edmund and Katherine Dease. The couple also has a daughter, Maud. The Dease family had lived in the same area for over 800 years and played an important part in the social and political life of Coole.
Maurice was educated at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire and Wimbledon College, Edge Hill. This originated as a military academy, preparing students for future careers in the Army, the Navy or the Indian Civil Service. Maurice joined the Army Class, founded in 1898 and run primarily by the Jesuit Fathers. Most of the students later went on to train at famous military academies and Maurice attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.
During the First World War, he enlisted in the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and achieved the rank of Lieutenant. He was the first serviceman to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the conflict. This was for an act of valour during fighting at Mons, Belgium. Maurice was then 24 years old.
The following details of his actions were printed in the London Gazette, an official Government journal used to publish statutory notices.
Lieut Maurice James Dease, Royal Fusiliers
On the 23rd August 1914 at Mons, Belgium, Nimy Ridge was being defended by a single company of Royal Fusiliers and a machine gun section with Lieutenant Dease in command. The gun fire was intense and the casualties were heavy, but the lieutenant went on in spite of his wounds, until he was shot for the fifth time and was carried away to a place of safety where he died. A Private ( Gidley S F ) 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 good effect that he covered the retreat of his comrades.
London Gazette, August 1914
In his book The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War, H. C. O'Neill wrote:
The machine gun crews were constantly being knocked out. So cramped was their position that when a man was hit he had to be removed before another could take his place. The approach from the trench was across the open, and whenever a gun stopped Lieutenant Maurice Dease... went up to see what was wrong. To do this once called for no ordinary courage. To repeat it several times could only be done with real heroism. Dease was badly wounded on these journeys, but insisted on remaining at duty as long as one of his crew could fire.
Maurice was buried at St. Symphorien Military Cemetery, Belgium. His posthumous Victoria Cross arrived at the family home rather unceremoniously, by post. Understandably upset, his mother wrote back to express her dismay and this led to a change in official policy. Mrs. Dease was invited to receive her son's medal from King George V and from that point onwards, all posthumous VCs were awarded at Buckingham Palaces in the same way as those awarded to living servicemen.