b. 21/04/1897 Summerhill, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland. d. 14/04/1948 Belfast, NI.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 07/03/1924 Belfast, NI.
Francis Austin Morteshed (1897-1948) was born on 21st April 1897 in Summerhill, near Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland, the son of an auctioneer also called Francis George. His mother was Frances Elizabeth nee Austin. Frank as he was known enlisted with the Royal Engineers as part of the 36th (Ulster) Division on 3rd October 1915 as number 57933, which later changed to number 343693. He would later transfer to the Corps of Signals when it was formed in 1920.
Prior to enlistment, “Big Frank” Morteshed, who was 6ft 4in tall, was a keen amateur footballer. He began his career before the war at Brantwood. He continued to play whilst in the Army, and on one occasion whilst playing for Cairo against Alexandria, one of his team mates was Jimmy McMenemy, who had played for Glasgow Celtic and Scotland.
After his war service which saw action in Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Western Europe. He extended his Army career by four years after the war, when on 17th December 1922 he joined the Ulster Special Constabulary as a “B” Special. The Special Constabulary was soon changed to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and during his time in the RUC, he performed not just one (his EGM action) but three other notable actions of gallantry which were for “pursuing and capturing a murderer”, “stopping a runaway horse” and “tracing a person in a motor accident”.
The most dramatic incident was on 7th March 1924 in Belfast, when bookkeeper Nelson Leech of Messrs Purdy and Millards was preparing the pay packets for his staff. Suddenly, he was disturbed by 3 masked armed men with handguns. The men demanded “Hands Up” which was obeyed by the two female assistants, but Leech made for the telephone, and was shot in the back (and died a few hours later). One of the women ran after the retreating gunmen, screaming that Leech had been shot. Constable Morteshed heard the commotion whilst on duty in the nearby police barracks and began to give chase. One of the fugitives, seeing escape was unlikely, turned on Morteshed and produced an automatic pistol. Luckily for Frank, the gun didn’t go off, and he managed to wrench the weapon from the man and marched him to the barracks. During Mr Leech’s inquest, the Coroner, noted Frank’s gallantry, saying “You are a very brave man. What I most admire is your humanity. Instead of shooting down the misguided man, you risked your own life and yet succeeded in arresting him.”
The gunman, Michael Pratley, was later charged with murder, found guilty and hanged. On the 30th May 1924, Constable Francis Morteshed was gazetted for the award of the Empire Gallantry Medal for his actions in apprehending Pratley. Meanwhile, Frank was also continuing his amateur football career, playing centre forward for Cliftonville, gaining a County Antrim Shield medal and a runners up medal in the Irish Cup. He also played for Ireland at amateur level. On 7th January 1925 he married Evelyn May Neely and they had a son, Samuel Ronald Morteshed on 26th March 1926.
Frank served in Belfast throughout his RUC service and was elected to the Men’s Representative Body in the years 1929-1930 and 1930-1931. He left the RUC due to ill health on 31st May 1931 and moved to England, his discharge papers stating “his character was very good”.
During World War II, Frank served as Sergeant No 1498263 in the RAF Security Control Police (joined April 1941), until February 1942 when he was discharged with no reason given. In 1941, whilst in the RAF police he was invested by King George VI with the newly created George Cross, and Frank was noted to have remarked “I can now claim I have been decorated by three Kings.” He had received his EGM from King George V, and when he had won a hurdles event in the early 1930s, he was presented with his medal by the Prince of Wales – later King Edward VIII.
Frank, who was a very athletic and fit man, being not only a footballer and athlete, was also a cricketer, a swimmer and a rider at point-to-point races. Tragically, in his early 50s, he contracted Tuberculosis, and passed away in a hospital in Belfast on 14th April 1948. At the time of his death, he and his wife were living at 12 Lower Windsor Avenue, and his certificate stated his occupation as “Head Ward’s Master” – which it is still unclear what that entailed. His medals including his GC, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, and Victory Medal 1914-19 are not publicly held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: PRIVATELY HELD
BURIAL PLACE: KNOCKBREDA CEMETERY, BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND.
SECTION J PLOT 201 (UNMARKED)
Morteshed's unmarked grave in Knockbreda Cemetery, Belfast courtesy of Ken Switzer.