James McGuire VC

b. 1827 Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. d. ?

James McGuire (1827-1862) was born in Enniskillen, now Northern Ireland in 1827, and became a labourer as his early career before at the age of 18, he decided to enlist with the Honourable East India Company’s 1st Bengal European Fusiliers and served in the Anglo-Burmese War of 1852-1853. Promoted to Sergeant, he took part in the siege and attack on Delhi during the Indian Mutiny.

James McGuire VC Medal National Army Museum

On the 14th September 1857, during the assault on the Kabul Gate in the city of Delhi, McGuire was awaiting orders and refilling his ammunition pouch when three ammunition boxes nearby caught fire, possibly from sparks from the neighbouring buildings. Within moments, two had exploded and the others began to burn. While others began to run around in panic or stood frozen to the spot and unable to react. McGuire alongside Drummer Miles Ryan ran forward, dragged the burning ammunition boxes from the pile and began throwing them over the parapet into the water-filled ditch below. The prompt action saved many lives, and saw both men awarded the VC gazetted on 24th December 1858.

McGuire took his discharge from the Army on 19th May 1859 and returned to Enniskillen. On 4th January 1860, he travelled to Windsor Castle, where he was presented with his VC by Queen Victoria. Sadly, McGuire’s life took a downhill turn following this great honour. During a family dispute, he was accused of stealing a cow from his uncle. At his trial on 12th July 1862, he claimed that he had taken it in lieu of an unpaid debt but the court found him guilty and sentenced him to 9 months in Derry Gaol. Like others who had fallen foul of the law, McGuire’s VC was forfeited, and his name was struck off the list of recipients on 22nd December 1862.

When he was released in March 1863, he petitioned to have his VC and annuity restored. These petitions were supported by the magistrates involved in his case but the judge who sentenced him, did not support his claim. The Secretary State at the War Office refused to submit his case to the Queen and McGuire appears to have given up. Interestingly, the VC Pension Book shows McGuire was not on a normal pension but received the £10 annual annuity, which indicates either the annuity was restored or it was a clerical error.

The date of McGuire’s death is shrouded in mystery. It has been stated that he died on the same day that he was struck off the VC list of recipients, but this cannot be the case if he petitioned for his VC in March 1863. It is believed he is possibly buried in an unmarked grave under the name Patrick Donnelly in Donagh Cemetery, Lisnakea, County Fermanagh, Ireland. His VC is held by the National Army Museum, Chelsea.