Military historian Bart Armstrong stands beside a newly unveiled gravestone at Royal Oak Burial Park marking the final resting place of Royal Canadian Navy volunteer reserve Lieut.-Cmdr. Rowland Bourke

A mark of respect for forgotten First World War hero

Historian Bart Armstrong leads charge to memorialize Victoria's Roland Bourke, a Victoria Cross recipient from 1918

Ninety-five years ago, as the First World War was well underway, and Lieut.-Cmdr. Rowland Bourke made a valiant effort to lead his Motor Launch into enemy fire, determined to find survivors of the sunk Vindictive in Ostend harbour, Belgium.

“He could hear voices in the water. And he went back not once, not twice, not three times – four times he went back into the battle area to find those voices. And he finally found three men, and he saved their lives,” said Bart Armstrong, an passionate amateur military historian from Victoria.

“One of them happened to be a British knight by the name of John Alleyne. And for this rescue (Bourke) got a Victoria Cross.”

The Victoria Cross is the British Commonwealth’s highest military honour awarded to recognize bravery in action.

About eight years ago, Armstrong learned about a Victoria Cross recipient – Bourke – buried at Royal Oak Burial Park in Saanich.

“I went there and I couldn’t find his marker. I ended up getting directions, and when I found it I was a bit chagrined,” Armstrong said. “What I found was the marker that’s there today – flat and dark. You would never know he’s there unless you specially went on a hunt to find it. I thought, ‘This guy is a hero. Why isn’t there something a little bit more significant?’”

Since then Armstrong has fought to turn Bourke’s final resting spot into a place of recognition, to pay tribute to a military man who earned such an important honour.

On Wednesday afternoon, Armstrong finally had a smile on his face visiting Bourke’s grave, as a new upright monument was unveiled recognizing the significance of the man buried below.

“It is so important because it is bringing to the public’s attention that in amongst ourselves are fellow Canadians who are heroes that need to be recognized for what they did,” he said.

In attendance at the ceremony was Belgium’s ambassador to Canada, a representative from the British High Commission at Ottawa, the Commander of Maritime Forces Pacific, and Bourke’s descendants.

Lorraine Fracy, client services supervisor at the burial park, said Wednesday’s unveiling marks a long-fought battle, spearheaded by Armstrong, to honour Bourke for his bravery.

“When you hear and read some of Rowland’s story, he was quite a reserved man. And it wasn’t all about that. For him he was just doing his job,” she said. “When you stand from a distance, it’s such a landmark now from that section, to tell his story. And he is so deserving of it. If he was sitting with us today, he would probably sheepishly be overwhelmed with gratitude.”

Armstrong, whose main passion is researching Canadian recipients of the U.S. Medal of Honor, said recognizing Bourke’s bravery in such a significant way is how we keep his memory and his story alive.

“You hear the term, ‘Lest we forget,’ but people forgot, and we’re now reminding them.”



Just Posted

VicPD catches impaired driver near elementary school

Citizens alerted police to driver near James Bay Community School

Victoria’s Belfry Theatre hosts its first ‘relaxed performance’ for a diverse audience

Performance of Every Brilliant Thing is first to pilot the option

Car crash at Quadra and Finalyson Streets affects Saturday traffic

VicPD and the Victoria Fire Department responded

VIDEO: B.C. couple creates three-storey ‘doggie mansion’ for their five pups

Group of seven, who Kylee Ryan has dubbed as the ‘wandering paws,’ have a neat setup in Jade City

Port Alberni mom takes school district to court over Indigenous smudging, prayer in class

Candice Servatius, who is an evangelical Christian, is suing School District 70

Family of B.C. man killed in hit-and-run plead for tips, one year later

Cameron Kerr’s family says the driver and passengers tried to cover their tracks

Princeton couple pays for dream vacation with 840,000 grocery store points

It’s easy if you know what you are doing, they say

Chilliwack family’s dog missing after using online pet-sitting service

Frankie the pit bull bolted and hit by a car shortly after drop off through

B.C. wildlife experts urge hunters to switch ammo to stop lead poisoning in birds

OWL, in Delta, is currently treating two eagles for lead poisoning

B.C. First Nations drop out of court challenge, sign deals with Trans Mountain

Upper Nicola Band says deal represents a ‘significant step forward’

Ski resorts selling mountain water is a risky move, critics say

Alberta allowed ski resort in Kananaskis Country to sell about 50 million litres to third party

Most Read