b. 20/01/1831 Elphin, County Roscommon, Ireland. d. 01/02/1915 Clarges Street, London.
Sir Luke O’Connor (1831-1915) was born in Kilcroy, Hillstreet, near Elphin, County Roscommon, Ireland. He was born to James O’Connor and his wife Mary (nee Gannon). The family were very poor, and the O’Connor’s were evicted from their family farm for non-payment of rent, and James decided to emigrate the family to North America in 1839, when Luke was 8. Sadly, tragedy struck, as James O’Connor died at sea on the voyage, and his mother and baby brother both died of cholera shortly after arriving at Grosse Isle, Quebec. Luke then returned to Ireland though some of his siblings remained in North America.
On the return to Ireland, Luke lived with family relatives in Boyle where it was hoped he would learn the grocery trade with his uncle. At the age of 17, he became a boots and porter boy at a local hotel, also owned by his uncle. Luke was upset by the move as he wished to remain in the grocery trade and the story is that he gained revenge by turning on the barrel taps and absconding from the hotel. Luke then moved to London where he had another uncle who had served in the medical corps under Sir De Lacy Evens in the Peninsular Wars.
Luke decided to join the Army in 1847 and enlisted in the 17th Lancers, but with the assistance of his ex-army surgeon uncle, he enlisted instead with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He was quickly recognised as a good soldier, and rose to the rank of Colour Sergeant in 1850. With his Regiment, he was posted to the Crimea, where they landed on 14th September 1854. Just six days later, Luke O’Connor would be involved in the Battle of Alma, where he would distinguish himself to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
During the Battle, a young Lieutenant Anstruther was carrying the Regimental Colours. Suddenly, Anstruther was hit and killed, and without hesitation, O’Connor (himself wounded in the chest) grabbed the colours, raced to the head of the Regiment, and planted the Colours on the redoubt before those of the enemy, who were near at hand, could realise their perilous position. The Welsh Fusiliers were inspired by O’Connor’s actions and the bayonet charge was a success.
O’Connor was told that he was going to be recommended for a commission. He was appointed to an ensigncy whilst in hospital recovering from his wounds, but was to receive a greater honour in the Victoria Cross (London Gazette, 24th February 1857). He was also mentioned in the citation for his actions at the Redan on 8th September 1855, where he was wounded in both thighs. He was one of the 62 men at the first investiture of the VC at Hyde Park on 26th June 1857. He had returned to service after his wounds at the Redan, and was promoted to Lieutenant and was present at the Siege and Fall of Sebastopol.
He was on route for China when the Indian Mutiny broke out, and he was rerouted. He saw service under the command of Sir Colin Campbell at the Second Relief of Lucknow. He was present at the defeat of the Gwalior Contingent at Cawnpore, at the Siege and Fall of Lucknow and at the operations across the Coomtee. He was appointed Captain in August 1858 and received the Indian Mutiny Medal.
After some uneventful years, at the end of 1873, he took part in Sir Garnet Wolseley’s expedition to Kumasi. In June 1884, he was given command of the 2nd Battalion of The Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and in 1886, he was promoted to rank of Colonel. He retired from the Army on 2nd March 1887 with the rank of Major General. He was then created a Companion of Bath in 1900, and was knighted in 1913. In 1914, he was made honorary colonel of his old Regiment, the Royal Welsh. O’Connor then fell ill, and having been seriously ill for some time, he died in London on 1st February 1915 aged 84. He was buried at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL WELSH FUSILIERS, CAERNARFON.
BURIAL PLACE: ST MARYS CEMETERY, KENSAL RISE, LONDON.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
O'Connor's medals are the bottom set (Pic - Thomas Stewart)
Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum, Caernarfon
St Giles, Wrexham