Hon. J. L. RALSTON (Minister of National Defence):
Mr. Speaker, on March 6 I had the privilege of submitting to the house the names of almost five hundred members of the Canadian Army who had been awarded honours for deeds of gallantry in this war. With the unanimous permission of the house, these names were given a permanent record on Hansard. Among the names were two recipients of the Victoria Cross, Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Merritt and Major Paul Triquet.
A few hours ago there was announced concurrently in the United Kingdom and in Canada that another officer of the Canadian Army has been awarded this highest honour for gallantry which can be conferred on a member of the armed forces by His Majesty the King. The recipient is Major John Keefer Mahony of New Westminster, British Columbia. His regiment is the Westminster Regiment (Motor). The award to Major Mahony is for great gallantry while leading his company in establishing and holding an important bridgehead across the river Melfa in Italy.
The citation appears in a special issue of the Canada Gazette published to-day, and I am sure the house would want it recorded in Hansard. The citation reads:
The King has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Victoria Cross to: Major John Keefer Mahony,
The Westminster Regiment (Motor).
On the 24th May, 1944, a company of the Westminster Regiment (Motor) under the command of Major Mahony was ordered to establish the initial bridgehead across the river Melfa. The enemy still had strong forces of tanks, self-propelled guns and infantry holding defensive positions on the east side of the river. Despite this, Major Mahony personally led his company down to and across the river, being with the leading section.
Although the crossing was made in full view of and under heavy fire from enemy machine gun posts on the right rear and left front, he personally directed each section into its proper position on the west bank with the greatest coolness and confidence. The crossing was made and a small bridgehead was established on ground where it was only possible to dig shallow weapon pits. From 15.30 hours the company maintained itself in the face of enemy fire and attack until 20.30 hours when the remaining companies and supporting weapons were able to cross the river and reinforce them. The bridgehead was enclosed on three sides by an 88 mm. self-propelled gun four hundred and fifty yards to the right, a battery of four 2 cm.
Major Mahoney-Award oj Victoria Cross
anti-aircraft guns one hundred yards to the left, a spandau one hundred yards to the left of it, to the left of the spandau a second 88 mm. self-propelled gun and approximately a company of infantry with mortars and machine guns on the left of the 88 mm. From all these weapons Major Mahony'e company -was constantly under fire until it eventually succeeded in knocking out the self-propelled equipment and the infantry on the left flank.
Shortly after the bridgehead had been established the enemy counter-attacked with infantry supported iby "tanks and self-propelled guns. The counter-attack was beaten off by the company with its piats, 2-inch mortars and number 36 grenades, due to the skill with which Major Mahony had organized his defences.
With absolute fearlessness and disregard for his own safety, Major Mahony personally directed the fire of his piats throughout this action encouraging and exhorting his men. By this time the company strength had been reduced by sixty men, and all buit one of the platoon officers had been wounded. Scarcely an hour later enemy tanks formed up about five hundred yards in front of the bridgehead and in company with about a company of infantry launched a second counter-attack. Major Mahony, determined to hold the position at all costs, went from section to section with words of encouragement personally directing fire of mortars and other weapons. At one stage a section was pinned down in the open by accurate and intense machine gun fire. Major Mahony crawled forward to their position and by throwing number 77 smoke grenades, succeeded in extricating the section from its position with the loss of only one man. This counter-attack was finally beaten off with the destruction of three enemy self-propelled guns and one panther tank.
Early in the action Major Mahony was wounded in the head and twice in the leg, but he refused medical aid and continued to direct the defence of the bridgehead despite the fact that movement of any kind caused him extreme pain. It was only when the remaining companies of the regiment had crossed the river to support him that he allowed his wounds to be dressed and even then refused to be evacuated, staying instead with his company.
The forming and holding of a bridgehead across the river was vital to the whole Canadian corps action, and failure would have meant delay, a repetition of the attack, probably involving heavy losses in men, material and time and would 'have given the enemy a breathing space which might have broken the impetus of the corps' advance. Major Mahony, knowing this, never allowed the thought of failure or withdrawal to enter his mind and infused his spirit and determination into all his men. At the first sign of hesitation or faltering Major Mahony was there to encourage by his own example those who were feeling the strain of battle. The enemy perceived that this officer was the soul of the defence and consequently fired at him constantly with all weapons, from rifle to 88 mm. guns. Major Mahony completely ignored the enemy fire and with great courage and absolute disregard for personal danger commanded his company with such great confidence, energy and skill, that the enemy's efforts to destroy the bridgehead were all defeated.
The great courage shown by Major Mahony in this action will forever be an inspiration to his regiment and to the Canadian army.
I know, Mr. Speaker, that the house and the country will join very heartily in sincere congratulations to Major Mahony and to his family and to his regiment upon this worthy recognition of his superb soldierliness.
Subtopic: AWAKD OF VICTORIA CROSS TO MAJOR JOHN KEEFER MAHONY OF THE WESTMINSTER REGIMENT (MOTOR)