THE IMMORTAL DEED OF SERGEANT O'LEARY AT CUINCHY
 WITHOUT doubt one of the most popular V.C. heroes of the war is Sergeant (later Lieutenant) O'Leary, of the Irish
Guards. His great exploit at Cuinchy stirred people's imaginations as few other, although equally heroic,
feats performed by our magnificent soldiers have done. O'Leary became the most talked-of man in the world when
the story of his great deed was made known. Poems were written about him, and he received an ovation in London
such as kings might envy. This tribute, however, was not more than the brave Irish Guardsman deserved, for
with his unaided strong right arm he captured an enemy position, and of ten Germans who stood in his path he
killed eight and took the remaining two prisoners. "His prowess at the Cuinchy barricades," says a writer,
"has put the deeds of the Three
 Musketeers in the shade, for in comparison to O'Leary they are drawing-room heroes." A famous author, Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle, has said: "No writer of fiction would dare to fasten such an achievement to any of his
characters, but the Irish have always had the reputation of being wonderful fighters, and Lance-Corporal
Michael O'Leary is clearly one of them."
There is a story told of O'Leary's childhood that is worth relating.
Twenty years ago a little fair-haired Irish laddie was playing outside a neat, comfortable-looking cottage in
Macroom, about forty miles from the city of Cork. He was charging imaginary foes, stick in hand, with so much
vigour that the plump hens scuttled to cover, and entrenched themselves. His mother came to the door of the
An' what is it ye are doin' now, Mike? she asked, with a smile.
And the curly-haired youngster replied: "I'm a sodger."
Twenty years later the same mother stood outside the same cottage door in Macroom
 listening to the almost unbelievable story of a messenger who had dashed from Cork city by motor-car. Her
son—her Mike—had gained the V.C.! As she heard of how he had killed eight Germans and taken two
trenches unaided at Cuinchy, of how the world was ringing with the immortal exploit of Sergeant Michael
O'Leary, V.C., the brave woman nearly broke down. "Glory be to God! May He preserve my brave boy!" was all she
could gasp. The hero's father, a man well over six feet and of powerful frame, was also strongly moved. His
words, also, were few: "I wish I was by him,—it must have been a beautiful sight."
O'Leary has had an interesting career. He was born at Macroom in September 1890. Before becoming a soldier he
served the British Empire as a bluejacket, being attached to H.M.S. Vivid. Then the Army called him,
and he enlisted in the Irish Guards at the age of twenty. He had not long been an inmate of Caterham Barracks,
where he proceeded for his early military training, before he earned the respect of his comrades. The
 vouched for by a drill-instructor at Caterham, gives an insight into his temperament.
Some of the rougher element among the Coldstream Guards were skylarking, and a mere youngster was being very
unfairly tormented. O'Leary was present, and his blood boiled to see the lad so roughly handled. His
interference led to 'a scrap' with the ring-leader, who got a well-deserved thrashing. When the fight was over
O'Leary shook hands with his opponent and invited him to coffee in the canteen. From that moment he became
very popular, not only with his own comrades, but with the Coldstreams. He is still remembered at the depot
for his sunny disposition, his Irishisms, and his rollicking manner. He was often heard singing:
Mickey was a soldier bold,
Mickey died to save the colours.
After serving his three years with the Irish Guards, O'Leary went into the Reserve. For a time he helped to
tend his father's stock on the little farm in Co. Cork; later he proceeded to Canada and served with the
North-West Mounted Police.
 He had served in this force about twelve months when war broke out, and was one of thousands of Reservists who
rushed to rejoin the Colours in August 1914.
When O'Leary was sent to the front in November 1914 the military situation was a difficult one. All around the
La Bassée district fierce fighting had raged since October. The 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards, in common
with other regiments, now experienced the severities of the trench warfare. At the end of January they were
stationed near the La Bassée brickfield, and the Germans were subjecting them to a withering fire.
Notwithstanding that they had excellent cover, both in trenches and behind stacks of bricks, the bombs thrown
by the mortars cost us dearly.
On the last night of January the enemy's fire was particularly hot, and it was decided that our trenches were
too expensive to hold. But before evacuating them our men were ordered to storm the enemy's position. This
took place on the morning of the first of February, and one can well imagine how welcome the historic command,
"Up Guards and at 'em,"
 must have been to an adventurous and bold soldier like O'Leary.
In order to prepare the way for the assault our artillery commenced one of the fiercest bombardments of the
war up till then—nothing to be compared with the later sustained cannonades at Neuve Chapelle and
Loos—but nevertheless very powerful. It is said that the boom of the big pieces of artillery and the
detonation of their shells were audible twenty miles away. Our guns fired at the brickfield with such terrific
intensity in order to demolish what had become a regular bastion in the German lines, also to break down the
barbed wire entanglements in front of the German trenches, and to thoroughly demoralize the enemy before our
men stormed the positions.
No. 2 Company of the Irish Guards was ordered to keep up a hot rifle-fire. This was to make the Germans keep
under cover, no matter how much they wished to escape from our artillery. The diversion also caused the enemy
to expect an attack from this direction, with the result that he concentrated his fire on the trench occupied
by No. 2 Company.
 Then No. 1, O'Leary's Company, which was on the left of No. 2 Company's trench, was ordered to charge. The
Irish dashed over the parapet with a yell, their bayonets fixed, and rushed at the enemy in fine style. The
distance they had to cover to reach the German positions was from 100 to 150 yards. The men were very eager to
be at the enemy after their long spell in the trenches, and went for their foe at racing speed.
O'Leary soon outstripped his comrades. His Irish blood was up. "You would laugh if you saw us chasing the Huns
and mowing them down," he wrote to his parents.
He rushed on like one possessed, never looking behind to see if his comrades were following. A railway bank
rose in front of him. He cleared it, and went on. There was long ago a famous outlawed chieftain of Muskerry,
Art O'Leary by name, from whom he is doubtless descended, and Mike O'Leary must have inherited some of the
outlaw's wild spirit, for, heedless of risks, he dashed toward a strong barricade held by the Germans.
O'Leary paused at a little mound and looked
 around. In front of him was a deadly machine-gun, trained on the trench occupied by the second company of
Irish Guards. As already explained, their work was to deceive the enemy and the manoeuvre had proved
successful. Their rifle-fire had prevented the Germans from showing their faces, and they had not seen that
the British were racing toward them.
When O'Leary reached the mound the Germans became aware of their danger and immediately prepared to turn the
machine-gun upon the advancing First company. It was a critical moment in O'Leary's life. On his coolness and
bravery depended not only his own life, but also the fate of his comrades. Another moment and the deadly
stream of lead would be directed full upon them.
O'Leary did not hesitate; he took deliberate aim with his rifle at the gun's crew, five in number, and one by
one they dropped as his unerring finger pressed the trigger. His bold move in a supremely dangerous situation
had been successful. The machine-gun was his. The lives of his comrades were safe. For an ordinary man this
marvelously brave deed
 would have sufficed. But O'Leary was no ordinary hero. The exploit he had just performed whetted his appetite
SARGEANT O'LEARY AT LA BASSEE.
Another barricade farther on had caught his eye. With amazing audacity and dare-devilry he bounded toward it.
The Germans there had seen O'Leary's daring exploit, and were prepared for him. As before, the young Irishman
remained calm and collected. Aiming deliberately he "got his blows in fust," and killed three more Germans.
The two remaining had no stomach for the 'mad Irishman.' They promptly raised their hands, and O'Leary at once
went forward and secured them as his prisoners.
O'Leary confessed afterward that his second great exploit was a hazardous one. He had no bayonet at the time
and had to trust solely to his marksmanship. His rifle was loaded with ten rounds, and eight of the bullets
found a human billet. When the last two Germans surrendered he had no ammunition left, and had they not been
demoralized by his sudden and audacious attack single-handed, the issue would have been different.
 To sum up, Sergeant O'Leary, by his superb daring and amazing skill in shooting, had killed eight Germans,
captured a machine-gun, taken two Germans prisoner, and carried two strong positions, from which the rest of
the attacking party would have been heavily fired upon. Some one has said that this exploit was thoroughly
Irish in method and execution, and that O'Leary deserves to rank as one of the greatest heroes of modern
Describing what happened afterward, Company-Quartermaster-Sergeant J. G. Lowry, of the Irish Guards, says:
"O'Leary came back from his killing as cool as if he had been for a walk in the park, accompanied by two
prisoners he had taken. He probably saved the lives of the whole company. Had that machine-gun got slewed
round, No. 1 Company might have been nearly wiped out. We all quickly appreciated the value of O'Leary's
sprinting and crack shooting, and when we were relieved that night, dog-tired as we were, O'Leary had his arm
nearly shaken off by his comrades."
When on furlough O'Leary was feted and
 cheered as no V.C. hero has been. He received a splendid welcome in Cork and in his native village. The
greatest day in his life, however, was June 26, 1915, when Londoners turned out in tens of thousands to
acclaim him in the streets. To honour him the London Irish organized a demonstration in Hyde Park, at which
over 60,000 persons were present. O'Leary drove from the Strand to the Park in an open carriage, cheered all
along the route by thousands of admirers.
In due course he proceeded to Buckingham Palace to receive his V.C. from the King, and he was honoured by the
presence at the ceremony of the Queen, Princess Mary, Queen Alexandra, and Princess Victoria. After his
Majesty had shaken hands with the hero of Cuinchy, the other members of the Royal Family did likewise. O'Leary
left the Palace a proud man, though he afterward protested that he "didn't know what all this fuss was about."
In addition to receiving the V.C., O'Leary was given a commission in the Connaught Rangers. He is one of the
very few British
 soldiers who have been decorated by the Czar of Russia for conspicuous bravery, and, in addition to the V.C.,
wears on his breast the Russian equivalent—the 3rd Order of St George.
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