A Symbol of Courage

“It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long way to go.”Capture 1

Ontario, Canada is definitely a long way from Tipperary and even further from Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland and it’s absolutely miles from India. But these three places have a connection; that of one Private Denis Dempsey (1826-1896) of the 10th Regiment of Foot (later the Lincolnshire Regiment).

Born in County Wicklow, Ireland, Dempsey enlisted in the British army as many Irishmen did back in the mid 19th century. Some for the good pay and pension, others for adventure and the chance to see foreign lands. Whatever the reason, Dempsey at the age of 31, soon found himself serving with his regiment in India.

Since the establishment of British rule in India there had been a steady Westernization of Indian traditions, that threatened both, Hindu and Muslim customs that were centuries old. This came to a head in 1857 when native soldiers refused to use ammunition issued to them for their new Enfield rifles. In order to load the weapon, soldiers had to bite the ends off paper cartridges which they believed were lubricated with pig and cow lard. To touch this with their mouth would be affront to both Hindu and Muslim. Soldiers that refused were subjected to military discipline which angered their comrades and many soldiers turned on their officers, killing them and their families. The mutiny rapidly spread throughout the country with small British garrisons holding out in the hope of relief.

Beginning in July 1857 and continuing in the months that followed Private Denis Dempsey’s exploits would win him the most coveted award in the British military, that of the Victoria Cross. His citation reads:

Capture 2Dempsey, Denis Private 10th Regiment

30th July 1857 – During the retreat from Arrah, he carried the mortally wounded Ensign Erskine for two miles. 12th August 1857 – He was the first man to enter the village of Jugdispore under heavy fire. 14th March 1858 – He carried a powder bag through a burning village in order to mine a passage to the rear of the enemy’s position, all the while exposed to heavy fire.

Dempsey lived to tell the tale and was awarded his medal, returning to England and then emigrating to Canada, where he settled. He died in Toronto on 10th January 1886 and was buried in Saint Michael’s Cemetery Toronto.

Three countries, inadvertently linked by a man’s bravery, this symbol of courage is world renowned and is considered by many to be the most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that a soldier may be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

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Post by Paul O’Brien

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jillianne hamilton headshotJillianne Hamilton is an author, history enthusiast, book lover and graphic designer. Her debut novel, Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, was shortlisted for the 2016 Prince Edward Island Book Award. Her debut non-fiction book, The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII is now available. She lives in Charlottetown on Canada's beautiful east coast.
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