George Cross heroes honoured

Michael Blaney
Michael Blaney

The sacrifice of two Northern Irish George Cross recipients will be recognised on Saturday when plaques to them are unveiled in their home city.

Michael Flood Blaney and Thomas Raymond Kelly both received the crosses posthumously for their selfless actions in unrelated circumstances.

Although the RUC as an organisation was given the George Cross in 1999, it is believed these two are the only Northern Irish individuals to have been given the medals.

By coincidence, they were born just a short distance from one another in Newry – estimated to be no more than half-a-mile apart.

Plaques will be unveiled at their birthplaces this Saturday.

Michael Blaney, also known as Max, was born in Bridge Street in 1910. He was a civil engineer who ended up defusing unexploded German bombs in London during the Blitz.

He insisted on working alone, and was killed alongside a string of others as he prepared to tackle one especially complex device in late 1940.

He was buried in St Mary’s Church, Newry, on Christmas Day, and accorded the George Cross the following April.

Thomas Raymond Kelly was born at the end of River Street in 1928. A seaman, in March 1947 his cargo vessel was diverted to a distress call en route from Rio de Janiero to Britain.

On arriving at the scene, he saw the stricken SS Famagusta’s lifeboat had capsized.

He threw himself into the sea three times to rescue those in the water, but on his third attempt he was overcome by a wave and vanished from sight. The following February, the George Cross was accorded to him.

Pat Devlin, treasurer of the Ulster History Circle, said: “The reason why we’re doing it now, from the point of view of the Ulster History Circle, is we only just found out about them.”

James McArevey of the Newry Maritime Association was the first to alert them of the pair’s heroism.

In a statement Michael Blaney, Max’s nephew, said: “Almost 73 years have passed since Max Blaney gave his life in the service of his fellow man. The Blaney family is delighted with this public recognition of his heroism in making safe the lethal devices designed to bring death and destruction to the people of London.”

Dorothy Blair, a relative of Mr Kelly, declared herself “pleased and humbled at this public recognition of his sacrifice”.