In later life, when asked about his VC, Mickey apparently said that... "I don't know what all the fuss is about. It was me job you see to take out the wounded. There was a lot of Machine Gun and sniper fire. I could not doing anything but keep on going. You know what I mean."
Like so many heroes he just shrugged off these actions like they were just all part of a days work. No heroism, Just doing the job. Not sure I would agree with him as a close reading of what he did sure seems to show he went way above the normal call for duty. And it appears HRH King George V agreed.
Mickey was at least 39 years old in this picture and is well above the average age of the fighting soldiers in the war. His must have been a bit more of a physical struggle then those half his age. Living in the rat invested pits, being poorly nourished, daily exhaustion with potential for all kinds of disease all around, let alone the stress of the battle field took its toll on Mickey and thousands more.
In January 1918 Mickey was shipped back to London and then Canada and given a furlough for a few weeks. He was then recalled and worked in Vancouver with the 11th Garrison Artillery and put on bond drives across the North Western part of the United States. After a while Mickey took his release. Like so many other soldiers with ailments, he took about $400 of allowances given on release and headed for the warmer temperatures of San Francisco where he found various labour jobs.
Within 5 years he was back in Vancouver, living in a cheap hotel and struggling to find work. He found short term jobs in the grainery , at the waterfront and as a longshoreman but these jobs were intermittent. Around this time he even tried his hand at selling fruit at the Victoria waterfront. On return back to Vancouver he found that Jobs were hard to find and even harder to keep when you suffered from chronic bronchitis, emphysema, cholecycitis, gastritis and post traumatic stress. Each added to an ever increasing bad attitude and turn to alcohol as a solution. Something that he was used to. He had a few bad stints in the service that resulted in disciplinary actions in Europe.
Little income pushed him to apply for a pension. It was declined based on alcoholic issues. But was finally granted after the Governor General stepped in on his behalf. He then was awarded a pension at $10 a month, it was challenged and later it was increased to $11.25 monthly but still left his living in poverty.
In 1929 The Prince of Wale hosted a banquet for all Victoria Cross holders. Several from Canada attended. Mickey originally chose not to go because of his poor financial condition and not even having suitable clothing to attend. A fellow vet raised the money for him to go... complete with a new suit. Rumor had it that he then took the money and disappeared for three weeks and even sold the clothing. But nevertheless... he showed up in London on time to go to the banquet. No info on what he was wearing was found.
His invite to be on hand for the arrival Of Princess Elizabeth and husband, the Duke of Edinburgh for their fist visit to Canada in October of 1951 was similarly declined due the health and general Poverty status. A few months later Elizabeth would become the Queen. Claims of the same almost precluded a trip to London to again meet with royalty. It was the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Victoria Cross and the Royal family were hosting a grand reunion of live recipients from all over the world. Rumor has it that yet again others came forth to aid O'Rourke financially to make the trip.
After a long trip and return to Vancouver he was interviewed by a reporter. In response to one of the questions he noted that..." I have met the Queen. I have met the Princess Royal and I have met Sir Anthony Eden. But not once did I get a glass of Canadian Beer." A cute quote, or indicative of fondness for alcohol. Who Knows!
I have had the honor of visiting that museum several times during a visit to Ottawa a few years back. I highly recommend not only a visit but setting aside a full day or even two. You WILL be impressed with the fabulous exhibits there and ask to get a tour. I found that it is through the tour guides that the exhibits come to life in a way that you would sadly miss if just looking at it, thought that is also a keepsake on our heritage not to be soon forgotten.
It is rumoured that the O'Rourke medals were stolen at one point, and some thought that they may have been sold for desperately needed funds. But rumor may only be rumor. Regardless, the originals... or duplicates are now on display apparently at an armoury in Vancouver.
Mickey passed away in December 1957 and received a full military funeral attended by several dignitaries including over a half dozen VC recipients. He lies at rest today in Burnaby BC.
The Victoria Cross was awarded to Mickey for actions between 15 and 17 August 1917 at Hill 70, Vimy. Those dates were 96 years ago the last few days.