William Connolly VC (May 1817 – 31 December 1891)

Gunner William Connolly VC, Kirkdale Cemetery

Gunner William Connolly VC, Kirkdale Cemetery

Born in Liverpool in 1817, William Connolly was another local recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Gallantry in the face of the enemy

Little is known of his early life, but by the time he was 40, he was serving as a gunner in the Bengal Horse Artillery of the Indian Army during the Indian Mutiny. The incident in which he won his VC occurred on 7 July 1857 at Jhelum, British India (now Pakistan). William was acting as second sponge-man, a vital role involving clearing away smouldering fragments from a recently fired gun to prevent premature explosions while it was being reloaded. The danger was extreme: this type of artillery had to be positioned at close range to the enemy to be effective, and the firing procedure was complicated and risky.

When a musket ball tore through the muscles of his thigh, William suffered heavy blood loss and was in considerable pain, but refused to leave his post. Later that morning he was hit again, but continued with his duties until a third wound left him unconscious. He was awarded his VC in February 1859 in India.

William Connolly VC remembered

William’s later years were sadly less glorious. Living in extreme poverty in Liverpool, he was forced to beg for food and even had to sell his VC to survive. On his death at the age of 74, he was buried in a paupers’ grave at Kirkdale Cemetery, Liverpool; but a headstone recording his VC was erected in the 1990s close to the exact location of his last resting place. He is also remembered on the memorial at Royal Artillery Chapel in Woolwich, London and on the Liverpool Victoria Cross memorial in Abercromby Square in Liverpool.

His medal is on display in the British in India Museum, Lancashire.

Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.