b. 28/09/1889 Coole, County Westmeath, Ireland. d. 23/08/1914 Mons, Belgium.
Maurice James Dease (1889-1914) was born at Ballynagall, near Coole, County Westmeath, Ireland on 28th September 1889, although some believe he was born in Gaulstown, Coole. His father was Edmund FitzLaurence Dease JP, DL, Vice-Lieutenant of Cavan. His mother was Katherine (Kate) Mary nee Murray. They had married the year before Maurice’s birth, and they went onto to have one other child, Maud Mary Dease born in 1890.
Maurice was educated at St Basil’s and Frognal Preparatory Schools, both in Hampstead, London, before attending Stonyhurst College in Clitheroe, Lancashire from 1903-1907. At Stonyhurst, he was a keen ornithologist and was appointed Aviary Boy and became a Cadet in the OTC. He attended the Army Department of Wimbledon College from September 1907 to December 1908, followed by the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was commissioned into the Royal Fusiliers on 20th April 1910, and was promoted to Lieutenant on 24th April 1912.
The 4th Battalion of which Maurice was part was stationed at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight when War was declared in 1914. It was mobilised on 7th August 1914 and sailed for Le Havre, France, where it disembarked on 13th August. Maurice was part of his movement of troops as a Machine Gun Officer.
At dawn on Sunday, August 23rd, German artillery fired the opening salvoes of the Battle of Mons. This saw the first action of British troops on the continent of Europe since Waterloo. At 9am, German infantry advanced against British positions in the Obourg/Nimy area, intending to seize the four bridges over the Canal. Y Company had two platoons at each bridge with Company HQ at the railway bridge. Lieutenant Dease set up his two machine guns either side of the railway bridge. Dease intended to control the two machine guns from a trench 50 metres behind but the crews suffered numerous casualties and he made frequent journeys forward to sort out the problems. Around 9am, he was hit below the knee while attending the left gun. He refused to go for aid and crawled to the right gun where he was shot in the side.
The platoon commander, Lieutenant Steele, managed to persuade Dease to stay in cover for a while, but when the guns fell silent again, he went to check on his men. Having replaced the wounded gunners, he continued to control their fire in full view of the enemy. By midday, the Germans had advanced close to the canal, from which they opened fire into the Fusiliers’ gun positions. By then Dease had been hit in several places including the neck, but continued to control his guns from the middle of the bridge. After being hit for a 5th time, Dease was pulled out of the action, but died shortly afterwards of his wounds. He was buried in St Symphorien Military Cemetery, Belgium.
He was recommended for the Victoria Cross, and was duly awarded the first VC of the Great War (London Gazette, 19th October 1914). His Victoria Cross was sent to his family via registered post on 11th January 1915. In addition to his VC, Maurice was awarded the 1914 Star with Mons clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf. The medals were eventually passed to his nephew, Major Maurice Aloysius French, who sold them to pay for his grandchildren’s education. He offered them first to the Royal Fusiliers for the valuation of £18,000. The Victoria and Albert Museum paid half and the Regiment found the remainder. The medals are now displayed in the Royal Fusiliers Museum, Tower of London.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL FUSILIERS MUSEUM, TOWER OF LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ST SYMPHORIEN MILITARY CEMETERY, BELGIUM.
The first VC of the Great War
Maurice Dease VC's commemorative paving stone laid in Dublin on 23rd August 2014
Maurice Dease's medals including VC at the Royal Fusiliers Museum, Tower of London
(Picture - Thomas Stewart).
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT V, ROW B, GRAVE 2
William Carter painting in Royal Fusiliers Museum, Tower of London
Nimy Bridge Memorial near Mons, Belgium
Coole, Westmeath, Ireland
Coole, County Westmeath, Ireland
Original medal (Paul Deeprose)