b. 16/05/1825 Tullyhaw, County Cavan, Ireland. d. 22/11/1888 Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
John McGovern (1825-1888) was born on 16th May 1825 at Templeport, County Cavan, Ireland. He became a labourer following his schooling. He decided to enlist at Limerick for ten years’ service on the 18th November 1845, and sailed for India in the troopship “Cressy”, where he arrived on the 11th September 1846. McGovern was by accounts not a model soldier as was often in trouble with his superiors. He served in the Burmese War of 1852-53, receiving the campaign medal with a clasp for Pegu. He then served in the Indian Mutiny with the 1st Bengal Fusiliers and the Regimental Annual for 1912 states that McGovern “really won the VC twice over”.
For his services in the Indian Mutiny, he was awarded the campaign medal with clasps for Delhi and Lucknow. He was awarded the VC (London Gazette, 18th June 1859) for his actions at Delhi on 23rd June 1857, when he carried into camp a wounded comrade under heavy fire from the enemy’s battery at the risk of his own life. The second incident referred to in the Regimental Annual (not in his citation) came at the Battle of Narkoul on 16th December 1857, when three Sepoys took refuge in a small turret, and there was much difficulty in dislodging them, and orders were given to the Sergeant-Major to do this. Private McGovern was standing nearby when the order was given, and volunteered to go himself, and went up the staircase.
He advanced alone up the stairs and was met by the Sepoys who opened fire. McGovern avoided injury by jumping back a couple of steps, and then before they could reload, he shot the man in front, and rushing upon the other two, bayoneted them without giving them time to recover.
After being awarded the VC (which he was presented with on 10th July 1860), the Regimental Annual marks that McGovern was a changed man, and stopped getting into trouble for drinking and fighting in camp. It states that McGovern was determined “not to disgrace the Victoria Cross.” He transferred into the 101st Fusiliers on the 1st Bengal Fusiliers being transferred into the British Army in 1861, but McGovern chose to remain in India. McGovern had been wounded in the arm during the Mutiny and this injury would affect him for the rest of his life. McGovern left Army service and emigrated to Canada, where he lived in retirement. He settled in Hamilton, Ontario, where he died on 22nd November 1888 aged 63. He was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hamilton. The history of his medal is interesting as records show that on 13th May 1922 a duplicate VC was issued to the Secretary of the Royal Munster Fusiliers Old Comrades’ Association. His VC is now held by the National Army Museum, Chelsea.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM, CHELSEA, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: HOLY SEPULCHRE CEMETERY, BURLINGTON, CANADA. SECTION E LOT 53.
New plaque at McGovern's grave (Bill Mullen)