Wednesday, January 15, 2014

From War Hero to Protestor

Photo compliments of Wikipedia
Born on March 19, 1878 in Limerick, Ireland, Michael James (Mickey) O'Rourke later came to B.C. He worked here as a hard rock miner and logger.

At the age of 40, O'Rourke worked on a construction crew - building the CPR's Connaught Tunnel at Revelstoke - when he decided to join the war and enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Two years later, in 1917, O'Rourke became the oldest person awarded the Victoria Cross - Canada's highest military decoration.

Mickey was a stretch-bearer and at the Battle for the Hill 70 in August of 1917, he worked tirelessly to bring the wounded soldiers to safety, often at danger to himself. After that battle, the man suffered from sciatica and during the Battle of Ypres, he was subjected to gas attacks and hit by shrapnel. He was given a medical discharge in July 1918.
This photo, 48456, is from the Vancouver Public Library online collection. It shows the 7th Battalion, O'Rourke's unit, at the Armouries.This photo is from 1914 taken by Harold Smith.
When Mickey returned to America, he tried to find work. For awhile he was in the U.S. and did work as a fruit vendor in Victoria before settling in Vancouver's East End. However, suffering from PTSD, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, cholecycitis, gastritis and alcoholism, O'Rourke was unable to hold a job for very long.

His doctor mentioned that his problems were exacerbated by heavy drinking and therefore he was initially denied a $10 per month pension. Fortunately, General Byng - the Governor General of Canada - intervened on Mickey's behalf and the pension was granted. Eventually, the amount was raised to $11.25 per month but because pension amounts were derived from wage rates for unskilled labour, O'Rourke lived in extreme poverty when he wasn't working.
During the 1935 waterfront strike, Mickey O'Rourke played an integral part. The organizers of the protest wanted to appear as respectable men so they thought that having a war hero leading them would accomplish this. If you look at the photo below, you will see that all the men are in suits and ties and 61-year-old O'Rourke is the one carrying the Union Jack. (This is the same photo I showed you on Monday.)

When the police attacked the crowd, O'Rourke didn't stick around. He did manage to get a shot in though. Here's what happened in his words:

“When I saw we were beat, I beat it. I heaved a brick at a mounted policeman’s head though.”

Thanks to the Past Tense blog for the information on Michael James O'Rourke. I will tell you more on Friday.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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