An Old Collection of Medals Relating to The Great War

Date of Auction: 19th June 2013

Sold for £1,100

Estimate: £600 - £800

Three: Captain H. C. H. O’Brien, Royal Munster Fusiliers, who was killed in action near La Basee on 22 December 1914

1914 Star, with clasp (Capt., R. Muns. Fus.); British War and Victory Medals (Capt.); together with two Registered packets of issue for medals addressed to his sister ‘Mrs M. W. O’Brien-Butler,’ nearly extremely fine (3) £600-800


The following is extracted from The Stonyhurst War Record:

‘Captain Hugh Conor Henry O’Brien, 2nd Battalion. The Royal Munster Fusiliers was born in 1880, came to Stonyhurst in 1886. He was the son of Lieut.-Col. Henry O'Brien, R.A.M.C., and Mrs. O'Brien, and had seen much active service since he joined the Army in 1900, being gazetted Lieutenant in 1903 and Captain in 1910. He served in South Africa from 1900-1902, taking part in the campaigns of the Transvaal, Orange River, and Cape Colony, and, as his Queen's medal with five clasps testifies, he was present at some of the principal battles of the war. Later, in India, he served through the Mohmand Expedition, N.W. Frontier, in 1908, when he was Brigade Signalling Officer. For this campaign he received the medal and clasp. The following details of his last fight and death are taken from the letter of an Army Chaplain to his father, who kindly placed it at our disposal, together with a photograph, which we reproduce. The writer records the attachment felt for Capt. O'Brien by his men, who felt his loss keenly. The expedition which led to the fight in which he fell started on the night of December 20th, 1914, and marched all Sunday night. After a brief rest, the march was resumed on Monday morning, and on that evening the battalion was ordered to charge an important position. Here the battalion greatly distinguished itself for hard fighting. A Private in Capt. O'Brien's company told how it came about : Some trenches had been evacuated by the Indian troops, and the order came to retake them at all costs. During the charge, Capt. O'Brien was seen continually urging on his men, repeating, "Now, Munsters, this is your time to get back a bit of your own." He was wounded, first in the left side, while advancing over practically open ground, the only cover being mangold furrows, where they got what shelter they could. Capt. O'Brien was always to the front, cheering on his men, and it was as he knelt for a temporary protection that he was hit by a bullet in the left side. Then he lay down and called for someone to dress his wound. He was still full of dash and spirit, and kept calling out : " Go on, Munsters ! Now is your time ; get back your own." Another officer now came to his rescue, and began to dress his wound. At this time the Munsters were suffering severely as they advanced in face of a heavy fire from the enemy's machine guns and shrapnel. While his wound was being dressed, Capt. O'Brien and the officer who was attending to his wound were both killed instantaneously by a shell, which burst right over them. Both were buried near the spot where they fell, near La Bassee, in N. France. Capt. O'Brien was killed at the Defence of Givenchy, 1914. The Catholic Chaplain of the regiment bore testimony of his high regard for Capt. O'Brien as a loyal and kindly friend and an excellent Catholic. As the senior Catholic officer in the battalion, he always led them to Mass on Sundays, and even on that very Sunday, on the evening of which he set out on his last march, he was in command of the battalion during the parade to Mass.’

NB: Captain O’Brien’s Q.S.A. and I.G.S. 1908 were sold in a Sotheby’s auction on 7 November 1985, lot 665.