Documentary on One

The Little Cross of Bronze

Every county in Ireland, except one, has at least one winner of the Victoria Cross as revealed by this radio documentary.

The Little Cross of Bronze

Charles Lucas, the first man in the world to receive a Victoria Cross
Charles Lucas, the first man in the world to receive a Victoria Cross

The first man in the world to receive a Victoria Cross in June 1857 was an Irishman - Charles Lucas.

The last man to win a V.C. in World War 2 was the submariner from Belfast, James Magennis.

The only man ever to win both a V.C. and an Iron Cross was Dublin medic William Manley.

The youngest person to win a V.C. was fifteen year old drummer boy, Thomas Flinn.

And the list goes on.

Every county in Ireland, except one, has at least one winner of the Victoria Cross. But this important part of Irish history has not been acknowledged for decades - up until now.

Ireland's history has always been complex. Resentments can lie deep but now, almost a hundred years after the 1916 Rebellion, things are moving on and Remembrance Services are being held more and more, to honour those who fell in all wars.

When Queen Victoria instituted the Victoria Cross in 1856 she wanted it to be ".trifling in intrinsic value, but shall be highly prized and eagerly sought after ." So this small medal, made from the bronze of the Russian cannon captured at Sevastopol during the Crimean War, became the world's most prized gallantry award.

And that most revered of medals has been won by over 200 Irishmen - a huge number when you think that in the 153 years of its existence only 1356 have been awarded.

"The Little Cross of Bronze" focusses mainly on three V.C. winners.

Charles Lucas, the first ever recipient was only around 18 or 19 when he won his medal and his great-grandson, Michael Adams, talks about his extraordinary grandfather.

Clement Robertson from Delgany was part of the first ever tank regiment. His great-nephew Ian Robertson tells the poignant story of how his family received a letter written by Clement's orderly, 90 years after it was written!

Then there is the almost incredible story of Sir Luke O'Connor from Roscommon who joined the army as a private but ended up as the Colonel-in-Chief of his regiment!

However, The Little Cross of Bronze also looks at the changing attitude in Ireland to those men and women who served in the British military forces.

Retired Fine Gael TD, Paddy Harte took his first journey to the battlefields in France in 1996 and was stunned to realise just how many soldiers, lying under those bright white headstones, had Irish, Catholic names.

And this is part of why this story of the Irishmen who won the Victoria Cross is so amazing. These men -some of them merely boys - did their best for their comrades under appalling conditions and it was because of the people they were, as much as their courage, that won them the highest military honour in the world - a medal which is awarded regardless of class, creed or colour.

Produced by Elizabeth Rice.

Sound supervision by Richard McCullough.

First broadcast Saturday 13th November, 6pm

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.

Documentary maker: Elizabeth Rice

Elizabeth Rice

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