b. 18/11/1895 Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. d. 15/11/1922 Red Lake, Ontario, Canada.
Christopher Patrick John O’Kelly (1895-1922) was born on 18th November 1895 at Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. His father, Christopher, was born in Pembroke, Ontario, and married Cecilia Mary Morrison, who was also of Irish extraction. By 1891, Christopher senior was a furrier and they were living with his sister, Matilda. Christopher junior had two sisters – Monica born in 1894 and Margaret born in 1897.
Christopher was educated in public schools and at St John’s College in Winnipeg before becoming a gold prospector. He served in 90th Royal Winnipeg Rifles (Militia) and enlisted as a Lieutenant in 144th Battalion (Winnipeg Rifles), CEF, the “Little Black Devils” on 7th February 1916. Having trained at Camp Hughes, Manitoba he proceeded overseas with his unit, leaving Halifax on 18th September, arriving in Liverpool on 25th September. He was promoted to Lieutenant the same day and was initially based in Whirley, near Macclesfield, Cheshire.
On 12th January 1917 he transferred to 18th Canadian Reserve Battalion at Seaford and was drafted to 52nd Battalion on 19th February. He sailed for France soon after, and joined Canadian Base Depot. He was given command of 9 Platoon in C Company. He attended Canadian Corps School in June 1917. He was awarded the Military Cross for his part in a minor action in the Avion-Mericourt sector on 28th June 1917. During the attack on Avion Trench under Captain Wilcox they found uncut wire and machine gun posts. O’Kelly led a bombing party against the gun. He took out the gun with a bomb.
On 26th October 1917 at Passchendaele, Belgium, Captain O'Kelly led his company with extraordinary skill and determination. They captured six pill-boxes, with 100 prisoners and 10 machine-guns. Later his company repelled a strong counterattack, taking more prisoners, and subsequently during the night they captured a hostile raiding party consisting of one officer, 10 men and a machine-gun.
He was appointed Temporary Captain on 25th November and assumed command of A Company on 2nd December. He was granted leave to Britain in December spending Christmas there. On 22nd February 1918 he attended the GHQ Lewis Gun School at Le Touquet. When his mother was seriously ill in the spring of 1918 he requested leave and returned to Britain on 15th March. The VC was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 23rd March and he left for Canada on 26th March, arriving in Winnipeg on 9th April. He visited his mother in Battle Creek, Michigan where she was recovering in a sanitorium.
He returned to Britain and then the Front by August 1918, and on 28th September received a gunshot wound to the left groin and while lying out awaiting evacuation was hit by shrapnel in the left leg. He was treated at a Casualty Clearing Station, before the General Hospital at Camiers, and by October was at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Marylebone Road, London. On Boxing Day, 1918 he suffered the misfortune of breaking his foot when a horse fell on him. He was discharged in March 1919 and returned to Canada. Initially he returned to Winnipeg and sold real estate with his father before returning to prospecting. He rejoined the 90th Royal Winnipeg Rifles in 1921 as a Major.
Christopher and a colleague, EL “Bill” Murray, were prospecting in the region of Lac Seul, near Kenora, Ontario on 15th November 1922. Other prospectors saw them in a canoe on the lake as a storm broke. Their boat capsized and they were lost. Soon after the lake froze over and it was not until the spring that Murray’s body was recovered. Christopher’s body was never recovered and a hardwood cross was erected on nearby Goose Island in 1924.
In addition to the VC and MC, he was also awarded the British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The VC and MC were donated to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa by his sister Margaret, in May 1970. The campaign medals were missing but were replaced.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM, OTTAWA, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: BODY LOST AT SEA.
Christopher O'Kelly's medals on the Canadian War Museum's website including his VC and MC.
Camp Morton, Manitoba