Opinion

VC 'Jimmy' no-show for crowds

AHITCH in the arrival home in Belfast of Leading-Seaman James Joseph Magennis, the first Northern Ireland VC of the war, led to him arriving unreceived, unsung and unescorted at the Heysham Dock at 8 am while at the LMS Railway Station on York Road a force of specially drafted police and a large crowd of sightseers, whom the police were supposed to control, waited in vain for his arrival on the boat train from Larne.

At Larne, too, disappointment was evident as the mayor, the town clerk and a big gathering waited on the Stranraer steamer to dock only to find that the VC was not on board.

The lord mayor of Belfast, Sir Crawford McCullagh, whose 77th birthday it was, had gone from the City Hall earlier than usual so as to go to the LMS railway to welcome Magennis on behalf of the city. Everyone was under the impression that Magennis was arriving via the Larne-Stranraer route and the press and members of the Corporation and even members of the police force were unaware of the change in the programme. While the lord mayor was waiting on his car to take him to the railway and members of the RUC were lining up at the LMS, Magennis was quietly having breakfast at home in Ebor Street with his mother and sister.

The change in arrival naturally meant a change in his reception. It had been arranged that the VC would drive to the City Hall with the lord mayor, but when his unannounced early arrival had been confirmed, the lord mayor sent his secretary to Magennis' home by car to bring him to the city hall. He was received by the lord mayor at the entrance.

The BBC had all arrangements made to rig up their microphone on the LMS station and record the greeting by the lord mayor to the cheers of the waiting crowds.

The officials, however, got word of the change. The microphone was instead fitted up in the lord mayor's parlour in which Magennis, his mother, sister and friends were brought after their reception outside the City Hall. His arrival was witnessed by a large crowd of people who cheered Magennis to the echo.

Magennis was not wearing his Victoria Cross.

Sir Crawford McCullagh congratulated the young man on his valour and said he had done the heroic deed with complete disregard for his own safety.

The VC, in reply, said he was pretty dazed by the reception which he appreciated very much. It was more than he had expected and he was proud that he was the first one to being such an honour to Belfast.

Later he told an Irish News reporter that he would certainly visit his old school , St Finian's on the Falls Road, before his 51 days' leave was up. He said that he used every available penny he could get to go to the Falls Baths when a young boy and that that accounted for him being such a good swimmer.

Magennis received a great reception from the neighbours of Ebor Street (Donegall Road) when he was driven home after the City Hall ceremony.

He was mobbed on getting out of the car by female friends and found great difficulty in 'fighting' his way into his house. Once he got inside a relative remarked: "Close the door and lock it and keep them out till our Jimmie gets his dinner in peace".

Edited by Eamon Phoenix e.phoenix@irishnews.com

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