8 May 2013

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Lieutenant Commander Rowland Bourke VC DSO, RNVR, died on the 29th August 1958 and was buried in the Royal Oak Burial Park in Victoria, British Columbia, his grave being marked by a simple brass tablet set into the grass.

It was through the efforts of US Medal of Honor researcher Bart Armstrong that Rowland Bourke's grave has now been commemorated by an upstanding headstone, the original plaque being left in place, meaning that Rowland Bourke now lies between the two memorials.

It was at a prestigious ceremony held on the 8th May 2013 at the Royal Oak Burial Park that the new headstone was unveiled by the Belgian Ambassador to Canada Bruno van der Pluijm; Rear Admiral Truelove, Royal Canadian Navy; Bart Armstrong; and Shane Jones a descendant of Rowland Bourke.

Over 100 people attended ceremony which included Lieutenant Commander Mark Raeburn, Royal Navy, representing the British High Commission in Ottawa; Mrs Judith McWilliam Bourke, who's grandmother was the sister of Roland Bourke; and Jason Jones, his wife and three children, who is the Grand Nephew of Rowland Bourke.

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[ London Gazette, 23 July 1918 ], Created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order ( DSO ), Ostend, Belgium, 22 - 23 April 1918, Lieutenant Rowland Richard Louis Bourke, RNVR

Throughout the action showed the greatest coolness and skill in handling his motor-launch. Repeadedly went alongside HMS 'Brilliant' under very heavy fire and took off 38 officers and men. Took in tow and brought back to harbour another motor-launch which was damaged.

[ London Gazette, 21 May 1918 ], Special promotions for service in action.

Other special promotions and notifications for early promotion were announced in the London Gazette of the 21st May 1918. Statements of the services of the officers concerned are as follows:

Lieutenant Rowland Bourke, RNVR, For services see announcement of the award of the D.S.O. above.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 28 August 1918 ], Ostend, Belgium, 9 - 10 May 1918, Lieutenant Commander Rowland Richard Louis Bourke DSO, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

Volunteered for rescue work in command of ML-276 and followed HMS 'Vindictive' into Ostend, engaging the enemy’s machine guns on both piers with Lewis guns.

After ML-254 had backed out Lieutenant Bourke laid his vessel alongside 'Vindictive' to make further search. Hearing no one he withdrew, but hearing cries in the water he again entered the harbour, and after a prolonged search eventually found Lieutenant Sir John Alleyne and two ratings all badly wounded, in the water, clinging to an upended skiff, and rescued them.

During all this time the motor launch was under a very heavy fire at close range, being hit in fifty-five places, once by a 5in shell – two of her small crew being killed, and others wounded. The vessel was seriously damaged and speed greatly reduced. Lieutenant Bourke, however, managed to bring her out and carry on until he fell in with a Monitor, which took him in tow.

This episode displayed daring and skill of a very high order, and Lieutenant Bourke’s bravery and perseverance undoubtedly saved the lives of Lieutenant Alleyne and two of the 'Vindictive's crew.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned Officers in recognition of their gallantry and devotion to duty as described in the foregoing despatch.

  • Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Heneage Drummond, RNVR
  • Lieutenant Commander Roland Richard Bourke DSO, RNVR
  • Lieutenant Victor Alexander Charles Crutchley DSC, RN

Rowland Bourke was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 11th September 1918.

For the full story of Bart Armstrong's efforts to commemorate Rowland Bourke with a more recognisable headstone - Canadian Medal of Honor Site


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Iain Stewart, 15 May 2013