So today I am going to tell you a story of a fellow that made a great success in his life, not because of his disabilities... but because of his abilities.
Rowland Bourke was born in the late 1890's at London England and by age 17 he ventured off to the northern part of British Columbia to make his fortune with all the others grasping for gold. And like most, he soon turned his attention elsewhere. By 1907 he was living on a farm near Nelson BC with cousins. One day when they were out in the fields blowing up stumps a premature explosion cost him his site in one eye. It also killed one of his cousins. That was enough for farming. The family moved all the way across the world to New Zealand to try and put this horrible tragedy behind them. But they say that once you come to BC you can't leave it. He would soon return and take up farming again.
Thne along came the Great War. Rowland being a very patriotic man heard the call from Britain for soldiers and sailors and so he thought he'd join up. But the local army and navy folks wouldn't have anything to do with this man... cause he was disabled... They fogot those parts of him that were very much still abled.
So Rowland did what he thought was his duty. He donated some of his landholdings to be auctioned off. The proceeds were to go to veterans who lived in the area of his latest home. He then self-financed a trip to California and paid his own way to go to a pilot's school and, one eye or not, he not only got in, but he got his pilots license. He then again self-financed a sail across the ocean to London and joined up with the Royal Naval Voluteer Reserves.
Rowland, pictured to the left, would get his training and would then be promoted to Lieutenant and given command of a 80' motor Launch. (ML) The navy recognized his sight problem and vowed to keep him out of harm's way. In fact that they no doubt were a little shagrined when he would bring his ML into a docking area on more than one occassion and, shall we say, he would introduce it to the dock in a somewhat unconventional manner. His fellow officers had their own chuckles.
But that would change!
Throughout the earlier years of the war the Allies lost between 4 and 500,000 tons of supplies... PER MONTH... in U Boat attacks along the Atlantic. By 1918 concentrated efforts were being taken by surface vessels to take numerous steps to try and shut down the bases the U boats operated out of the coastline of Belgium.
One of the most famous attempts was in the harbour attacks located at
In late April and early May of 1918 The Allies launched two attacks at Oostende with the ultimate goal of scuttling a vessel in the narrow channel and thus hoping to block inside the channel, and of course render useless, about 29 U Boats.
When this was done several men from the ship were left struggling for their very lives.
Several of the ML's had been sent in and many men were rescued. Bourke repeatedly pleaded to be allowed to take his ML in to look for survivors and with the final go-ahead he made not one of two or three... but 4 attempts under very heavy fire to locate survivors. He lost one of his crew by enemy fire and took about 50 hits to the ML but managed to save three fellows. One was a fellow officer and in fact a British Knight.
Two weeks earlier, in a similar attempts at blockading this same harbour, the British lost two vessels that were run aground in the bad weather. Again after several pleas to allow him to take his ML in for the search of survivors, the officials gave Rowland Bourke the go-ahead. That time he rescued almost 50 sailors.
Rowland Bourke would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery on the first battle, and a Victoria Cross for the second. This would be pinned of his chest in England by King George V. The French would also award him their Chevalier Medal of Honor.
Bourke would return to Canada after the war and settle for a time in the Nelson area and later he would move to Victoria where he lived in Esquimalt for many years and worked with the naval reserves and also at the navy base. When he died in 1959 he was given a full military burial service at the Royal Oak Burial Park in Victoria.
The above parties and others will be formally unveiled the new marker in early May, possibly the 7th or 8th. It will be a service open to the public. Please stay tuned for further details as they become known.