Saturday, 9th October 1999

The only man from Northern Ireland to be awarded a Victoria Cross in the Second World War was yesterday given the full civic honour that sectarian predujice denied him more than half a century ago.

It has been claimed that James Magennis was never given the official recognition that was his due by the Unionist-dominated Belfast City Council because he was a working-class Roman Catholic. Although the public collected £3,600 in appreciation of his heroism, the council refused to give him the freedom of the city. The only official recognition was a small photograph tucked away in the robing room of the council chamber.

Amid the atmosphere of reconcilliation that has followed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the wrong was righted in style yesterday when a 6ft-high Portland stone and bronze memorial was unveiled in the City Hall grounds. Unveiling the statue, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Bob Stoker, a Unionist and Orangeman, said it was a special occasion and, "a time for this city to acknowledge the courage and valour of one our own". "A Catholic hero from West Belfast has been given official recognition at last, nearly 55 years after he was refused the freedom of the city by an earlier Lord Mayor, also a Unionist and an Orangeman.

The ceremony was attended by the late Mr. Magennis's brother, three sons, eight grandchildren and his wartime commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Ian Fraser VC, DSC. James Magennis, a leading seaman, earned the Victoria Cross for his remarkable courage as one of the crew of a mini-submarine planting limpet mines on ships of the Japanese Imperial Fleet in Singapore harbour in July 1945.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 13 November 1945 ]. Johore Straits, Singapore, 31 July 1945, Acting Leading Seaman James Joseph Magennis, Royal Navy.

Serving as a diver in HM Midget Submarine XE.3 under the command of Lt Cdr Ian Fraser VC, he attached limpet mines to the Japanese cruiser 'Takao'. As XE.3 was tightly jammed under the target, he had great difficulty squeezing through the hatch, then had to scrape barnacles off the bottom of 'Takao' to fix mines, all with faulty breathing apparatus. He returned in an exhausted state, but volunteered to go out again to free one of the jettisoned limpet carriers which had jammed next to XE.3. He cleared it after seven minutes of nerve-wracking work.
James Magennis was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the 11th December 1945.

( select to enlarge )

Medal entitlement of Leading Seaman James Magennis,
Royal Navy ( HM Midget Submarine XE.3 )
  • Victoria Cross
  • 1939-45 Star
  • Atlantic Star
  • Africa Star
  • Pacific Star
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 ) + MiD Oakleaf
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1977 )


Go to VC UK flag Home Page

Iain Stewart, 10 October 1999