Michael Francis O'Reilly
John Park VC (1835 - 1863):
John Park was the first soldier from Ulster, and the second of many Ulstermen (the first of all winners being Charles David Lucas of the Royal Navy) to win the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour in the British armed services. The group of the first VCs to be announced, or “gazetted”, included his name.
Park was born in Londonderry and served in the 77th (East Middlesex) Regiment of Foot throughout the Crimean War (1854-1856). The Victoria Cross is unique among British military decorations (and very few other countries’ decorations display this practice) in having engraved on it the dates on which the relevant actions occurred. Park’s VC has three such dates: 20 September 1854; 5 November 1854; and 19 April 1855. These dates refer respectively to the Battle of Alma, a British-French victory over the Russian army; the Battle of Inkerman; and the siege of Sevastopol, when his regiment were involved in attacking Russian defensive positions (“Redans”). During this last action he was seriously wounded.
The Victoria Cross was instituted in 1856, as a direct result of the Crimean War which, though a victory for the British French and Turkish forces, nevertheless cam at the cost of many casualties in battle, and as has become notorious, large numbers of military personnel who succumbed to disease and extremely inadequate medical treatment of the wounded. Before the War, there were rather few decorations for bravery, which was normally acknowledged by admission to chivalrous orders for senior officers, while junior officers and other ranks would receive promotions or financial rewards. In 1854, two new medals were instituted, but for other ranks only, and service-specific. What was notable about the new Victoria Cross was that it could be awarded to any rank in either service (army or navy). In order to recognise the considerable acts of gallantry during the Crimean War, which ended in March 1856, instituted, the VC was made retrospective to the beginning of the War. Queen Victoria signed the requisite Royal Warrant on 29 January, and the public announcement was duly published in the London Gazette dated 5 February, 1856.
On 24 February 1857, the London Gazette contained the announcement of the first Victoria Crosses. Amongst these were Charles Davis Lucas, of County Armagh, who was the first-ever winner; that is, it was his brave conduct, on 21 June 1854, which was the first chronologically to be judged to have merited the new award. Seven other Ulstermen were gazetted alongside him, one of whom was “No. 2600 Serjeant John Park”, whose citation read:
For conspicuous bravery at the Battles of Alma and Inkerman
Highly distinguished at the taking of the Russian Rifle Pits, on the night of the 19th April, 1855. His valour, during that attack, called forth the approbation of the late Colonel Egerton.
He was severely wounded.
Remarked for determined resolution at both attacks on the Redan.
Park died at Allahabad, India. His medal is held by Leicester Museum and Art Gallery.
|Died:||18 May 1863|
R Doherty & D Truesdale: Irish Winners of the Victoria Cross (Dublin 2000); www.familytreeservice.co.uk/; www.britishbattles.com; Supplement to the London Gazette 21971 24.2.57, p 661 (www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/21971); Farset Youth and Community Development Unit: Ireland's V.C.s: a comprehensive list of Irishmen who were awarded the Victoria Cross
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