History Ireland launches Magennis VC

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 2 (Summer 1998), News, Volume 6

James (‘Mick’) Magennis VC

James (‘Mick’) Magennis VC

Nat Gould VC, Paul Magennis, George Fleming and Rod Eley (History Ireland) at the book launch, Submarine Museum, Gosport, England. (Royal Navy Submarine Museum)

Nat Gould VC, Paul Magennis, George Fleming and Rod Eley (History Ireland) at the book launch, Submarine Museum, Gosport, England. (Royal Navy Submarine Museum)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James (Mick) Magennis was born in West Belfast and served in the Royal Navy in World War II. He was the only person from Northern Ireland to win the Victoria Cross, and the only person in naval history to exit a submarine (a midget X-craft) in a diving suit, perform a military operation (successfully blowing up a Japanese cruiser in Singapore) and return safely to the same submarine. Yet while honoured in his adopted town of Bradford, England, he was made feel unwelcome and was virtually forgotten in his home town of Belfast.
Author George Fleming rescues Magennis from obscurity in a book which begins with Magennis’s life in West Belfast in the 1920s and ‘30s. He escaped Belfast’s poverty by joining the Royal Navy in 1935. The middle part of the book is packed with adventure and history of the war at sea, and finishes with Magennis winning the Victoria Cross in 1945.
The closing chapters bring the reader back to the reality of his return to Belfast where the political and religious problems had not changed. He was an embarrassment to the Unionist establishment and unwanted by his fellow Catholics. Forced to leave the city, Magennis went to England where he was simply accepted as a war hero. Always a quiet man who never sought glory, ‘Mick’ Magennis died in obscurity in 1986.
History Ireland’s first venture into book publishing, Magennis VC was launched on 23 April at the Submarine Museum, Gosport, England. Rear-Admiral Whetstone presided and praised both the book and its author. Present also was Nat Gould VC, one of the last two surviving naval Victoria Cross winners from the World War II. Guest of honour was Magennis’s son, Paul. On 25 April a reception for the book was held at the reunion of the Ganges Association. George Fleming was overwhelmed at the response from the old sailors who, like Magennis himself, had started their naval careers at this training establishment. On the following day, a special event was organised at Eden Camp Museum, Yorkshire, for the Magennis family, in particular James’s brother Bill. The tour concluded in Belfast City Hall with an unprecedented reception hosted by the Lord Mayor, Alban Maginnis. After years of neglect, this was the first official and long overdue gesture of recognition of the war hero from West Belfast.

The midget submarine XE3 before the attack on Singapore.

The midget submarine XE3 before the attack on Singapore.

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