Major John Keefer Mahony - VC

Discussion in 'Searching for Someone & Military Genealogy' started by canuck, Oct 1, 2016.

  1. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    This past weekend I spoke at length with a friend who recounted how his family, for many years, lived across the street, in London, Ontario, from John Mahony. He was a private man but would often allow visitors to handle the medal and ribbons. Only in later years did my friend recognize what a rare honour it was to touch both the medal and citation. Not atypically, he described Mahony as a quiet, modest and peaceful man, with infinite patience.
    When asked how he won the Victoria Cross, a favourite response to children was that the muffins he made were so good that he sent a batch to the Queen. She loved them so much that she awarded him the Victoria Cross.
    Upon his death in 1990, the Mahony family donated the
    Victoria Cross to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. The museum now holds 32 of the 94 VCs awarded to Canadians since the medal was established in 1856.
    mahony-jk.jpg mahony.jpg



    Melfa River, Italy – May 24, 1944
    The Westminster Regiment
    Citation

    On the 24th May 1944, A Company of the Westminster Regiment (Motor), under the command of Major Mahony, was ordered to establish the initial bridgehead across the River Melfa.

    The enemy still had strong forces of tanks, self-propelled guns and infantry holding defensive positions on the east side of the river. Despite this, Major Mahony personally led his company down to and across the river, being with the leading section. Although the crossing was made in full view of and under heavy fire from enemy machine-gun posts on the right rear and left front, he personally directed each section into its proper position on the west bank with the greatest coolness and confidence. The crossing was made and a small bridgehead was established on ground where it was only possible to dig shallow weapon pits. From 1530 hours the company maintained itself in the face of enemy fire and attack until 2030 hours, when the remaining companies and supporting weapons were able to cross the river and reinforce them.

    The bridgehead was enclosed on three sides by an 88 mm. Self-propelled gun 450 yards to the right, a battery of four, 2cm. A.A. guns, 100 yards to the left, a Spandau 100 yards to the left of it, to the left of the Spandau a second 88 mm. Self-propelled gun, and approximately a company of infantry with mortars and machine-guns on the left of the 88 mm. gun. From all these weapons, Major Mahony’s company was constantly under fire until it eventually succeeded in knocking out the self-propelled equipment and the infantry on the left flank.

    Shortly after the bridgehead had been established, the enemy counter-attacked with infantry supported by tanks and self-propelled guns. The counter-attack was beaten off by the company with its P.I.A.T.‘s (1), 2″ mortars and grenades, due to the skill with which Major Mahony had organized his defences. With absolute fearlessness and disregard for his own safety, Major Mahony personally directed the fire of his P.I.A.T.‘s throughout this action, encouraging and exhorting his men. By this time, the company strength had been reduced to 60 men, and all but one of the Platoon Officers had been wounded. Scarcely an hour later, enemy tanks formed up about 500 yards in front of the bridgehead and in company with about a Company of infantry, launched a second counter-attack. Major Mahony, determined to hold the position at all costs, went from section to section with words of encouragement, personally directing fire of mortars and other weapons.

    At one stage, a section was pinned down in the open by accurate and intense machine-gun fire. Major Mahony crawled forward to their position, and by throwing smoke grenades, succeeded in extricating the section from its position with the loss of only one man. This counter-attack was finally beaten off with the destruction of three enemy self-propelled guns and one Panther tank.

    Early in the action, Major Mahony was wounded in the head and twice in the leg, but he refused medical aid and continued to direct the defence of the bridgehead, despite the fact that movement of any kind caused him extreme pain. It was only when the remaining companies of the regiment had crossed the river to support him that he allowed his wounds to be dressed and even then refused to be evacuated, staying instead with his company.

    The forming and holding of a bridgehead across the river was vital to the whole Canadian Corps action, and failure would have meant delay, a repetition of the attack, probably involving heavy losses in men, material and time, and would have given the enemy a breathing space which might have broken the impetus of the Corps’ advance.

    Major Mahony, knowing this, never allowed the thought of failure or withdrawal to enter his mind, and infused his spirit and determination into all his men. At the first sign of hesitation or faltering, Major Mahony was there to encourage, by his own example, those who were feeling the strain of battle. The enemy perceived that this officer was the soul of the defence and consequently fired at him constantly with all weapons, from rifle to 88 mm. guns. Major Mahony completely ignored the enemy fire and with great courage and absolute disregard for personal danger, commanded his company with such great confidence, energy and skill that the enemy’s efforts to destroy the bridgehead were all defeated.

    The great courage shown by Major Mahony in this action will forever be an inspiration to his Regiment and to the Canadian Army.

    John Keefer Mahony was born in New Westminster, British Columbia, on the 30th of June 1911. He received his education at the Duke of Connaught High School, New Westminster and then entered the world of journalism as a reporter with the Vancouver Province. Prior to the outbreak of war he had been an officer in the Westminster Regiment of the militia and he was among the first to enlist for active service. On the cessation of hostilities he remained in the army until 1962 serving successively as Commandant Cadet Officer of the Western Command, Director of Publications for the Canadian Army and Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster-General of the Western Ontario Area. On the 5th of April 1954, Lieutenant-Colonel Mahony went to Washington, D.C. as Canadian Army Liaison Officer. He retired to London, Ontario where he engaged in youth work. At his own request, he was buried without a military funeral. He died on the 15th of December 1990.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2016
  2. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    A very interesting read -- thank you.

    With not a shred of criticism, one wonders why such a consummate soldier might forgo a military funeral?
     
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  3. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Thanks Canuck.
     
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  4. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    His daughter Louise simply offered that he was a very private man. Probably as close to an explanation as you will receive.
     
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  5. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

  6. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Re member

    UK, Victoria Cross Medals, 1857-2007
    Name: John Keefer Mahony
    Birth Date: 30 Jun 1911
    Birth Place: New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada
    Death Date: 16 Dec 1990
    Death Place: St Mary's Hospital, London, Ontario
    40104_258646-n1268.jpg

    TD
     
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  7. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    I was up on the Melfa only last week. As the citation says, if the Melfa had not been secured so quickly and then held, the I (Cdn) Corps breakthrough of the Hitler Line, which cost 2 Cdn Inf Bde over 500 men, would have stalled. That would have been a disaster for Op DIADEM.

    Regards

    Frank
     
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  8. gpo son

    gpo son Senior Member

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  9. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    Last edited by a moderator: May 28, 2018
  10. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    Gpo son.

    The Perkins description is terrific.

    Thank you for posting.

    Regards

    Frank
     
  11. gpo son

    gpo son Senior Member

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  12. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    Gpo son.

    I have now got my hands on a copy of Oldfield's book on the Westminsters. It is exactly what I need. With your AAR, I should be able to get my head around this action on the Melfa.

    Much appreciated.

    Regards

    Frank
     
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  13. gpo son

    gpo son Senior Member

    Hi Frank
    Here's an additional tidbit which goes back to the FUP late afternoon May 23rd early morning May24th. Milroy was a squadron Major with the LSH. http://scholars.wlu.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1145&context=cmh
    You will notice in the AAR the GGHG's were required to expend considerable resources to stabilize the flanks throughout this operation. Particularly on the right flank. as there was a significant lag there.
    I'm sure there is more to be found on the reel that this report came from reel t-1848
    Best
    Matt
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2018
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  14. gpo son

    gpo son Senior Member

    Hi Frank
    To get right into the action you should down load the images from Heritage Canadiana reel t-1848 images 911 through 1123 War diaries : T-1848 - Héritage it contains battle plans and AAR for all the regiments in the 5th CAD and accompanying maps with bound and report lines for the period.
    Best
    Matt
     
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  15. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    Gosh, the Canadians are so much better that we British at making their information available to the public.

    HMG's current approach is laughable and we come across as rank amateurs.

    Regards

    Frank
     
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