Patrick Albert O’Leary GC KBE DSO (Direct Recipient)

b. 05/04/1911 Brussels, Belgium. d. 26/03/1989 Waterloo, Belgium.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 03/1943 – 05/1945 France.

Patrick Albert O’Leary (1911-1989) was born as Albert-Marie Edmond Guerisse on 5th April 1911 in Brussels, Belgium. He qualified in medicine at the Université Libre de Bruxelles before joining the Belgian Army. At the outbreak of World War II, Guérisse was serving as a Medecin-Capitaine, a captain in the Medical Branch, as the medical officer of the Guides, a Belgian cavalry regiment. After Belgium was forced to surrender, he escaped to Britain through Dunkirk. He then joined the French-crewed ship, Le Rhin, which had been accepted for special operations and renamed HMS Fidelity. His British commission was therefore a naval commission in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR).

Patrick A O’Leary

Guérisse was serving mainly as a conducting officer, escorting agents ashore in small boats through the surf, whilst the large vessel lay some distance offshore. This was skilled work, exposed to physical dangers from the sea-conditions and operational dangers from the Vichy security services. On 25th April 1941, during a mission to place Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents in Collioure, on Roussillon coast in southern France, Guérisse was in the skiff on its way back to the ship when it turned over and he had to swim ashore. To the Vichy French coast guards, Guérisse claimed he was a Canadian airman named Pat O’Leary. The ‘Canadian’ identity attempted to explain his not-quite British accent in English, and his not-quite French accent in French, without compromising his relatives in occupied Belgium. He escaped while en route to prison, and thereupon set up an organisation to help Allied prisoners and evaders. Between April and August 1941 he helped 150 men escape.

In March 1943 he was betrayed to the Gestapo, arrested and tortured in an attempt to make him reveal the names, whereabouts and duties of other members of his organisation. He was put in a refridgerator for hours, beaten repeatedly,but never disclosed any information. The Germans gave him up as a hopeless case and sent him to a concentration camp, where he was again tortured. On liberation, he refused to leave the camp until he had ensured that all possible steps had been taken to ease the suffering of his fellow inmates. Even then, he went to France to trace other members of his organisation.

He was awarded the DSO (not gazetted; presented 30th October 1945) and was gazetted for the George Cross on 5th November 1946. He was also awarded the Legion d’Honneur and the Croix de Guerre by the French, the Croix de Guerre by the Polish, the Medal of Freedom by the USA and the Grand Officer Ordre Leopold from Belgium. After the war, he rejoined the Belgian Army under his real name – Albert-Marie Guerisse and served in Korea.

In 1947 he married Sylvia Cooper-Smith and they had a son Patrick. He was once described as the most decorated man for bravery alive and held 35 decorations in all from various countries. In 1964 he was featured on the TV series “This Is Your Life”. He was made a honorary Knight of the Order of the British Empire in 1980 and not long before he died, was enobled as a count by King Baudouin of Belgium. He died on 26th March 1989 in Waterloo, Belgium, though sadly his final resting place is unknown. His vast medal group is not publicly held.