2717019 James O'DONNELL, MM & Bar, 2 Irish Guards

Discussion in 'The Brigade of Guards' started by dbf, Aug 17, 2011.

  1. dbf

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    Last edited: Sep 20, 2019
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    Army Number: 2717019
    Rank: Lance-Serjeant
    Name: J O'DONNELL
    Unit: Irish Guards
    Theatre:
    POW Number: 5431
    Date of Capture:
    Place of Capture:
    Camp: Stalag 357
    TNA Reference:
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2019
  3. dbf

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  4. dbf

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    IG JOURNAL 1959
    [​IMG]
     
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  5. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member

    Police Roll of Honour entry -

    Police Roll Of Honour Trust


    Detective Inspector

    Died 13th December 1958. Aged 48

    Blackburn Borough Police


    On December 12, 1958 DI O'Donnell was called to attend an address in Blackburn due to a 27 year old male armed with a shotgun. The male was reported to have taken seven people hostage, including his estranged wife.

    James arrived and despite the male having already killed a woman and shot an unarmed police officer he attempted to talk the male down.

    James was shot in the chest, he died from the injuries he sustained in hospital the following day.

    Posthumously awarded the Queen's Police Medal for Gallantry.

    Steve

    PS

    Thanks for posting Diane - he should also have post nominal QPM.
     
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  7. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    I came across this past auction result for James' medals:

    Date of Auction: 5th December 2018

    Sold for £13,000

    Estimate: £12,000 - £15,000


    The Unique and Outstanding post-War Q.P.M. for Gallantry, Second War M.M. and Bar group of four awarded to Lance Sergeant, later Detective Inspector J. O’Donnell, Irish Guards, who was awarded the Military Medal for his gallantry in fighting off the German Stuka Aircraft attacking ‘Harpoon Force’ during the successful British rescue of the Dutch Queen, Her Government, and millions of pounds worth of diamonds during the Blitzkrieg Invasion of Holland in May 1940. O’Donnell was subsequently awarded a Second Award Bar to his Military Medal for his remarkable ten escape attempts whilst a Prisoner of War in Central Europe; and was awarded a Posthumous Queen’s Police Medal for his great gallantry when, unarmed, he negotiated with a murderer who he knew had already shot two people



    Queen’s Police Medal for Gallantry, E.II.R. (Insp. James O’Donnell, Blackburn Borough Police), with Royal Mint case of issue; Military Medal, G.VI.R., with Second Award Bar (2717019 L. Sjt. J. O’Donnell, Ir. Gds.); 1939-45 Star; War Medal 1939-45, mounted court-style for display purposes; together with a Royal Life Saving Society Medal, silver, named to ‘J. O’Donnell, 1934’, generally good very fine (5) £12,000-£15,000

    Footnote

    Provenance: William Oakley Collection, Dix Noonan Webb, December 2012.


    A total of only 133 double M.M’s were awarded during the Second World War, of which O’Donnell’s award is unique to the Irish Guards.


    Q.P.M. London Gazette 14 August 1959.


    Police Gallantry, by J. Peter Farmery, states:

    ‘On 12 December 1958, a taxi-driver drove to police headquarters and reported that he had seen a man, soon identified as Henry King, standing in Brewery Road, Blackburn holding a shotgun. Constables Halliwell, Colvill and Riley immediately went to the scene, and entered the house. There were several persons present, including King, who was holding a shotgun. As Constable Colvill approached, King fired the shotgun without warning, hitting the Constable in the groin. Constables Riley and Halliwell immediately dragged their injured colleague out of the kitchen and into the front room.

    Soon afterwards Detective Inspector O’Donnell and Inspector Harrison arrived, and went into the kitchen and started talking to the man with the gun. Inspector O’Donnell persuaded the man, whom he had arrested before, and therefore knew him as Henry King a local small time criminal, to let him into the back room. There he found King standing over his wife, whom he had already shot dead. King said that he wanted to make a statement, and Inspector O’Donnell said that he would write it down. However King became very agitated when he could not see the Inspector writing anything, and as Inspector O’Donnell turned to speak to him, King suddenly fired a shot without warning, hitting Inspector O’Donnell in the chest. Inspector Harrison and Constable Halliwell took their fatally wounded colleague out of the room, and he was removed to hospital where he later died.’


    M.M. London Gazette 21 February 1946:

    ‘In recognition of gallant and distinguished services in the Field.’


    M.M. Second Award Bar London Gazette 6 June 1946.

    The original recommendation states: ‘O’Donnell was captured at The Hague on 15 May 1940, and spent the greater part of his imprisonment in Poland. He was wounded and in hospital at the time of his capture, but unsuccessfully tried to evade the Germans through the American Legation.

    After a short period in hospital he was sent to Thorn where he escaped in August 1940 by posing as a member of a working party. He was recaptured the next day.

    In February 1942 he allowed himself to be caught out of bounds so that he should be sent to a working party for punishment. He was sent to a farm but his preparations were noticed and he was returned to the Stalag.

    During August 1942 he slipped away from his guard when working outside the camp and started walking to Warsaw disguised as a Pole. After four days he was recaptured.

    In February 1943 he climbed the wall at Fort 13 but was quickly recaptured.

    By May of the same year he had again obtained a passport, clothing and money. He hid close to the main gate, and when it was dark, climbed over the wall and railings. He caught a train for Danzig but the forged passport did not satisfy an official on the train.

    O’Donnell was then confined indefinitely in Fort 16 but managed to find Poles who were prepared to help him. He escaped in November 1943 by bluffing the guard and spent the next ten days in Thorn trying to obtain a satisfactory passport. He was recognised and recaptured by a Gestapo official who had caught him on a previous attempt. At this stage O’Donnell was guaranteed his passage to England if he agreed to collaborate with the Germans for six months.

    By February 1944 he was ready for another escape. He and one companion hid in a load of Red Cross boxes which were being sent to a Stalag nearby. With the help of a Pole, they were hidden in a room attached to the German Officers’ Mess but, having failed to obtain forged papers, they decided to travel by train to Gotenhafen. They were discovered near Marienburg.

    When clothing was being moved from Fort 15 to Thorn in May 1944, O’Donnell hid in one of the sacks and escaped. He put up in a working camp so that he could forge papers and then set out for Danzig on foot. He was recaptured several days later.

    Later that year, the camp were under orders to move and he managed to pass into the German compound and climb over the perimeter wire. On this occasion he was free for four days.

    Whilst on the march in April 1945, he escaped from the column and joined our troops in Bergen.’


    James O’Donnell was born in Bolton, Lancashire, on 7 April 1911. He enlisted in the Irish Guards on 4 September 1929 and served at home for three years, mostly on ceremonial duties, and was appointed a Lance-Corporal. He left the Regulars on 4 September 1932, opting for a new career in the Blackburn Police, and in 1936 he joined the Criminal Investigation Department (C.I.D.).

    After the outbreak of war in September 1939, few policemen with Army Reserve obligations were recalled to military duty immediately. The police were considered to be a vital wartime frontline service, as it was expected that England’s cities would come under heavy attack by German bombers, resulting in extensive civil disorder, including roaming bands of looters. Also, there were thought to be many British Fascists and/or Nazi sympathisers who were ready and willing to aid the enemy. The police were given responsibility for registering all residents of the United Kingdom, issuing them with Identity Cards and hunting for traitors, spies and ‘fifth columnists.’ After four months of ‘Phoney War’ the government’s initial fears had subsided. O’Donnell returned to army service, joining the 2nd Battalion Irish Guards on December 4 1939. An intelligent and disciplined man, he was advanced to Lance Sergeant. According to the obituary written by his Regiment, he had a “ready and warm smile and general friendly disposition.”


    ‘Harpoon Force’ - Holland during the Blitzkrieg Invasion

    At dawn on 10 May 1940, Hitler unleashed the blitzkrieg invasion of the Low Countries. Holland and Belgium appealed to the Allies for help. Britain had made secret preparations, and early on 12 May 200 Royal Marines were landed at the Hook of Holland, where the Maas/Rhine river enters the North Sea, to secure a port and a bridgehead. A day later, ‘Harpoon Force’, a 650 strong composite battalion of 70% Irish and 30% Welsh Guards, was hastily packed “as tight as sardines in a tin”, on to two Dover ferries. After a rough crossing, they disembarked at Hook of Holland at dawn on Monday 13 May.

    Harpoon Force’s orders were to safeguard the Dutch government and to accept only further instructions that would come direct from the War Office. Winston Churchill had two objectives in mind when he authorized Operation Harpoon, shortly before taking over as Prime Minister: 1) To secure, rescue and evacuate the Dutch Royal Family and Government; 2) To seize and bring to England the Dutch Gold and Currency reserves, plus as much as possible of the huge quantities of gem and industrial diamonds which the Germans confidently expected to capture in Holland and then exploit to support the Nazi war effort.

    As O’Donnell landed, he and his comrades could see a deep red glow in the eastern sky. It was not the sunrise but the flames from Rotterdam, which had been heavily bombed. Enemy aircraft were overhead. The Hook of Holland was a clear and well-defined target for aerial attack. The Guards Companies created a defensive perimeter on the outskirts of the town and set up several anti-aircraft posts (a Bren gun on a tripod mounting, one of which was commanded by Lance Sergeant O’Donnell) as well as Mortar and Anti-tank positions, as German tanks were reported as advancing from Rotterdam. Battalion Headquarters contacted the British Military Attaché at The Hague, who stressed the vital importance of both holding on to the road from The Hague to Hook of Holland and of keeping the port open. This was easier said than done, as roads were choked with panic-stricken civilian refugees, parties of German paratroopers, some wearing Dutch army uniforms, were roaming the countryside and Dutch Nazi sympathisers in the town sniped at the Guardsmen. Fortunately, there was an extensive ground mist, though this burnt off as the sun rose higher in the sky. Crates of diamonds, secured by a British Intelligence operation, began to arrive and were loaded onto the destroyers Windsor and Hereward.

    ‘W. J. Gilchrist D.C.M. remembered his Commanding Officer appearing beside him at about noon and saying: “Sergeant, this is the main road to The Hague and in a short time eight large black cars will arrive. The first two will be carrying the Dutch Royal Family, the next three will be members of the Dutch government and the last three will be carrying members of the Diplomatic Corps. Those eight cars are all you and your platoon are allowed to pass through to the harbour. You turn back all other cars that come.” Dutch motor-cycle outriders cleared the road to make way for a convoy of about twenty long black cars. The Irish Guardsmen lined the road, bayonets fixed, gave a smart royal salute as the first two cars swept by, then, after the eighth car had passed, closed ranks at the double to block the road, taking up the ‘on-guard’ position. The next two cars tried to force their way through. Gilchrist shot out their front tyres. A man with no badges of rank but claiming to be a general threatened to shoot Gilchrist with his pistol, but was still not let through, and so the remaining cars turned and went back up the road to The Hague.’ (Fortress Hook of Holland: Operation Harpoon 13-15 May 1940 Irish Guards Regimental Journal 2000 refers).


    Towards six in the evening of 13 May, another convoy of official cars arrived, bringing the remainder of the Dutch government and Diplomatic Corps evacuees. As the cars passed into the British perimeter, the Luftwaffe’s Stuka dive-bombers arrived in force They began their attack dives, sirens screeching, singling out the Guards’ anti-aircraft posts for special attention. ‘The anti-aircraft gun posts came into action at once. They were necessarily in very exposed positions, but they fired continuously throughout the raid. Lance Sergeant J. O’Donnell’s A./A. post was particularly exposed, but he stood to his gun, pumping a steady stream of tracer, till he collapsed badly wounded by machine-gun bullets ... This air-raid killed seven Guardsmen and wounded twenty-three. Three of the casualties [including O’Donnell] were wounded some distance from the Regimental Aid Post. A local doctor treated them and then, with the best intentions, drove them to hospital in The Hague, where, unfortunately, the Germans collected them.’ The History of the Irish Guards in the Second World War refers)

    After another heavy air attack the next day, Harpoon Force, having achieved its objectives at the cost of 11 dead, 24 wounded and three taken prisoner, carried out demolitions in the port and boarded destroyers bound for Dover. The Dutch civil leadership and large quantities of the diamonds used in industrial tooling (which would have enabled German war production to be greatly boosted) had been snatched from under the noses of the enemy.


    If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again: a Second M.M. for ‘the Great Escaper’

    A C.I.D. colleague, who worked alongside O’Donnell for over 15 years, stated: ‘Of his military service I know much, but can say little, except that even as a prisoner of war he contrived to assist his country’s war effort at great personal risk to himself and with complete disregard for the consequences of his activities.’ Based on material contained in a secret MI9 report, it is thought that this refers to O’Donnell’s role in the covert identification and investigation of suspected British traitors and stool-pigeons run by the Germans at his P.O.W. camp, and in keeping a wary but discreet eye on ‘doubtful characters’. O’Donnell’s training and experience as a police detective would have made him ideally suited for this work. However, it had to be undertaken in conditions of the utmost secrecy, both as a security measure and to avoid lowering the morale of his fellow captives. The C.I.D. colleague could also have been referring to O’Donnell’s remarkable tally of nine failed escape/evasion attempts (two in 1940, one in 1942, 3 each in 1943 and 1944), followed by a successful tenth escape in 1945, which resulted in the award of a Second Award Bar to his M.M. The Recommendation for the award of the Bar, based mostly on the ‘pink slip’ summary of his MI9 debriefing form, explains each attempt.

    While Harpoon Force was re-embarking at the Hook of Holland, O’Donnell, still suffering from the effects of his gunshot wounds, discharged himself from hospital and made an unsuccessful attempt to seek sanctuary for all three wounded Irish Guardsmen at the American Legation at The Hague. He returned to the hospital to help nurse the most seriously injured of his comrades, a man with a major stomach wound, and was still there when the hospital was taken over by German troops on 15-16 May. After a while, the Germans pronounced him fit enough to travel. He was sent across Germany to Stalag 20A, at Thorn in German-occupied Poland. Stalag 20A was a complex of obsolete 19th century forts encircling Thorn city, with about 200 satellite work camps for labour units. From June 1940, some of the old forts housed British troops captured in Norway, Belgium or France.

    The British prisoners lived in the old forts’ barracks and casemates, about 30 men to a room. In accordance with the Geneva Convention, prisoners below the rank of sergeant were required to work and were attached to Arbeitskommando (labour units). The daily ration was “one litre of very weak soup and a piece of brown bread the size of a tin of corned beef… Most of us most of the time were damned starving and in pretty poor condition... most chaps were sent out to work which was either a good thing or a bad thing depending on what and where the work was. If it was making roads in the middle of nowhere without any hope of stealing, begging or bartering for extra food it was a dead loss as well as energy consuming; on the other hand if it was a job where contact could be made with Polish Civilians or sympathetic German soldiers there was always a chance of getting extra grub, cigarettes etc.” (My 21st Birthday in Prison Camp Thorn Fort 13 Stalag 20A by Harry Lazenby POW 5774 refers). As a Lance Sergeant of the Guards, under British Army rules O’Donnell enjoyed the privileges of a full Sergeant, and it seems that he was not forced to work on a regular basis. O’Donnell escaped from Stalag 20A in August 1940, posing as a member of an Arbeitskommando. He was recaptured the next day.


    The MI9 report states that there was an Escape Committee at Stalag 20A, but it is clear that O’Donnell normally prepared his escapes independently and alone. He was older than most of the other prisoners, who tended to form tight-knit groups, as many had served together before they were captured, and as MI9 reported: “there were several senior W.Os. who discouraged all escape talk, as such activities would lead to the Germans imposing restrictions and curtailing existing comforts. Indeed, there were alleged to be certain prisoners who betrayed two escape plans to the Germans.”

    In February 1942 O’Donnell allowed himself to be caught out of bounds so that he would be punished by being assigned to a working party. He was sent to a state farm work camp but his escape preparations were noticed and he was returned to his Fort. In August 1942 O’Donnell slipped away from his guards when working outside the camp and started walking to Warsaw, disguised as a Polish civilian. After four days he was recaptured.

    In February 1943 he climbed the wall at Fort 13, but was quickly recaptured. By May he had again obtained a passport, clothing and money. He hid close to the main gate, and when it was dark, climbed over the wall and railings. He caught a train for Danzig but his forged passport did not satisfy a security official on the train. O’Donnell was then confined indefinitely in Fort 16, but managed to find Poles who were prepared to help him. He escaped in November 1943 by bluffing the guard and spent the next ten days in Thorn city, trying to obtain a satisfactory passport. He was recognised and recaptured by a Gestapo official who had caught him before. O’Donnell was guaranteed his passage to England if he agreed to collaborate with the Germans for six months. He refused this offer.

    By February 1944 O’Donnell was ready for another escape. He and one companion hid in a load of Red Cross boxes which were being sent to another P.O.W. camp nearby. With the help of a Pole, they were hidden in a room attached to the German Officers’ Mess but, having failed to obtain forged papers, they decided to travel by train to Gotenhafen. They were discovered near Marienburg. When clothing was being moved from Fort 15 to Thorn in May 1944, O’Donnell hid in one of the sacks and escaped. He put up in a working parties’ camp so that he could forge papers and then set out for Danzig on foot. He was recaptured several days later. Later that year, he managed to pass into the German compound and climb over the perimeter wire. On this occasion he was free for four days.

    On 21 January 1945 the Germans started evacuating Stalag 20A, moving the British prisoners westwards on foot. They marched 20-40 km a day, through two or three feet of snow and in freezing temperatures. Frostbite was frequent and many died from dysentery. Shootings and beatings were also frequent. In April 1945, O’Donnell escaped from the P.O.W. column. After eleven days he met advancing British troops in the Bergen area between Hamburg and Hannover in north Germany. Before being flown home, he witnessed the undiluted horror of Belsen concentration camp, shortly after it was liberated by the British.


    Posthumous Q.P.M. - gunned down in cold blood in the line of duty

    O’Donnell returned to England on 23 April 1945, just after his 34th birthday. Following medical treatment and demobilization, he rejoined the Blackburn Police in December 1946. A year later he became Detective Sergeant and married a local girl. By December 1958, he was a highly commended Detective Inspector and the Head of the Blackburn C.I.D.

    At about 11 p.m. on the night of 12 December 1958, a taxi-driver ran into Blackburn police headquarters. He reported that a man, soon identified as Henry King, was in a house in Brewery Street, Blackburn, and was menacing the occupants with a shotgun. Detective Constables Halliwell, Covill and Riley immediately went to the scene in the taxi, and entered the house, No 8 Brewery Street, where King’s estranged wife and her parents lived. As Covill approached him and told King to hand over his gun, King fired, hitting the constable in the groin. Constables Riley and Halliwell immediately dragged their injured colleague out of the kitchen and into the front room. King shot his wife and then shouted: “Get out before someone else gets it! Get out the lot of you!” What the media would describe as “The Siege of Brewery Street” began.

    The taxi driver was sent back to the police station to summon assistance. Detective Inspector O’Donnell arrived at the scene, along with a host of police reinforcements. He had previously arrested the gunman, and therefore knew that Henry King was a petty criminal. He persuaded King to let him and another Inspector enter the unlit kitchen, where they found King standing over his dead wife. After about ten minutes, King said that he would make a statement, and O’Donnell took out his notebook and a pencil. He held the notebook in his left hand and the pencil in his right hand. In order to pacify King, he agreed to write down any statement which he cared to make. King spoke in an incoherent manner, saying something to the effect that O’Donnell was not writing, then, without the slightest warning or provocation, King raised the gun and shot O’Donnell.

    O’Donnell shuffled on his buttocks through the doorway into the front room. He was badly hurt and in great pain. He was rushed to Blackpool Royal Infirmary, where an emergency operation was performed on a gun shot wound to the left side of the lower part of his chest, which had caused severe lacerations to the large and small intestines. During the afternoon O’Donnell’s condition deteriorated, and despite a further emergency operation he died at about 11.45 p.m. on 13 December. A post-mortem stated the cause of death to be shock and haemorrhage from a gunshot wound to the lower left chest and abdomen.

    Meanwhile, King responded to repeated requests to leave the kitchen by threatening to shoot anyone who entered. Rifles were issued to about 30 policemen, a police dog and tear gas grenades were brought in, and King’s brother was sent for. King spoke to him briefly and threw a letter out of the kitchen window. It was written by King’s dead wife to another man, with whom she was romantically involved. After a three hour standoff, at 2.15 a.m. on 13 December orders were given to end the siege. Tear gas was thrown into the kitchen through the window. Immediately afterwards the report of a shotgun was heard. The police dog, accompanied by armed police, entered the house and found King with a gunshot wound to the left side of his chest and his left arm. He was later convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to life imprisonment. He served 18 years.


    O’Donnell’s posthumous Q.P.M., was presented to his widow at Buckingham Palace. He is also commemorated by a plaque at Blackburn Police Station, and by the O’Donnell Trophy, a rarely issued reward for police bravery. The Deputy Chief Constable said at O’Donnell’s funeral: “His sense of duty was of the highest order and his loyalty to his colleagues, superiors and subordinates alike was something to be experienced to be believed.”


    Sold with a large quantity of copied research.


    O' Donnell J. medals.jpg
     
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