25 September 2006

The Victoria Cross and other medals awarded to Corporal William Cosgrove were sold at auction today, 22 September 2006, by the auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb, for a hammer price of £180,000. The VC group was purchased on behalf of the Michael Ashcroft Trust, the holding institution for Lord Ashcroft's VC Collection.

( select to enlarge )

Medal entitlement of Corporal William Cosgrove,
1st Bn, Royal Munster Fusiliers

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1914-15 Star
  • British War Medal ( 1914-20 )
  • Victory Medal ( 1914-19 ) + MiD Oakleaf
  • Army Long Service & Good Conduct Medal ( LSGC )
  • Meritorious Service Medal ( MSM )

By mid-afternoon on 25th April 1915 the main landings at V Beach had been brought to a bloody standstill. Of the three companies of the 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers who charged out of the sallyports of the SS River Clyde, 70 percent were killed or wounded. Those who succeeded in making it ashore, including 6 foot 6 inch Corporal William Cosgrove, could advance no further than the 8-ft-high sandy bank, some 10 yards from the shoreline, which afforded some cover from the raking machine-gun fire. About 25 yards away, up a slight rise, belts of barbed wire entanglements barred the way.

According to William Cosgrove, who was among those sheltering beneath the sandy ledge on the foreshore, 'the wire entanglements ran in every direction, and were fixed to stout posts that were more than my own height'. About fifty men were detailed to dash ahead and cut the barbed wire with pliers, but this turned out to be a hopeless task owing to the wire being of great strength and full of spikes and thorns.

Throwing his pliers aside Cosgrove sprang to his feet and started to pull the posts out of the ground placing his arms around each one. In what seemed a matter of moments, amid a hail of machine-gun and sniper fire, he had cleared a 30 yard section of wire. With wild cheering the Munsters poured through the gap and fought their way to the enemy trenches, and won about 200 yards length by 20 yards deep, and 700 from the shore. Corporal Cosgrove also reached the safety of the enemy trenches but had been hit several times by machine-gun fire whilst taking up the posts, one of them passing through his body.

Cosgrove's extraordinary exploit in the face of what almost appeared to be certain death was witnessed by several men, both on shore and aboard the River Clyde. Referring to an 'Irish giant', the ship's sugeon, Burrowes Kelly noted in his diary: 'The manner in which the man worked out in the open will never been forgotten by those who were fortunate to witness it.'

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 23 August 1915 ], Gallipoli, Turkey, 26 April 1915, Corporal William Cosgrove, 1st Bn, Royal Munster Fusiliers.

For most conspicuous bravery in the leading of his section with great dash during our attack from the beach to the east of Cape Helles, on the Turkish positions, on 26th April 1915. Corporal Cosgrove on this occasion pulled down the posts of the enemy's high wire entanglements single-handed, notwithstanding a terrific fire from both front and flanks, thereby greatly contributing to the successful clearing of the heights.

William Cosgrove was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 4th November 1916.

William Cosgrove was evacuated to hospital in Malta before being sent home to Ireland to recuperate where the announcement of the award of the Victoria Cross made him the centre of attention. After the war Cosgrove soldiered on with the Munsters but after the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 he transferred to the Northumberland Fusiliers. Six years later he transferred to the 6th ( Burma ) Bn, University Training Corps based in Rangoon.

In 1934 Staff Sergeant Instructor Cosgrove retired from the Army, but shortly afterwards his health began to fail. It was discovered that splinters of shrapnel, which the surgeons had failed to detect during the operations on his back wound in Malta, were slowly killing him. He died on 14th July 1936 at the comparitively early age of 45 at the Millbank Military Hospital, London, from the wounds caused by machine-gun fire during his VC action in 1915. He was buried in the family plot at Upper Aghada Cemetery, near Cork.


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Iain Stewart, 22 September 2006