Victoria Cross UK VIEW SOURCE
Place of migration
Migrated to/Born in UK

James Magennis was born in Belfast, County Antrim on the 27th of January 1919. From a working class Catholic background, he attended school on the Falls Road. 

As a young man, Magennis enlisted in the British navy. At this point his last name was spelled as Magennis, a clerical error. However he adopted the new spelling, foregoing the original family spelling of McGinnes. 

Between the years of 1935 and 1942, Megennis served on a number of different warships before joining the submarine branch. One of the ships which he served on was a destroyer called Kandahar. Whilst the ship was off the coast of Tripoli in Libya in December 1941, it was irreparably damaged and was scuttled the following day. 

In March 1943, Magennis, now in the submarine branch, volunteered for special and hazardous duties, which required him to operate smaller submarines known as X-craft. His first major mission involving the X-craft occurred in September 1943 when he penetrated the Kåfjord in Norway and disabled a German warship. He received a special mention for his bravery in the dispatches of this event. 

On the 31st of July 1935, Magennis was involved in an attack on a Japanese cruiser. His role was that of diver. The mission was to place limpet mines on the hull of the ship. Whilst in the X-craft, the men found that the hull of the ship was heavily encrusted with barnacles, which had to be scraped off before the limpets could be placed. This was an arduous task. Magennis continued on with the difficult work. He was also hampered by a lack of space and experienced great difficulty navigating around the hull of the ship. Furthermore he was leaking oxygen at a steady pace. When it came time for the X-craft to depart, it was discovered that it was entangled. Magennis volunteered to go out once again and untangle their craft as he was the most experienced diver of the group. Once again he was in grave danger of running out of oxygen or of being spotted by the enemy as his leaking tank was sending bubbles to the surface. Nevertheless, Magennis persevered and succeeded in untangling the craft. 

Magennis was awarded the prestigious Victoria Cross for his bravery on that day. He was the only man from Northern Ireland to receive the medal for services in the Second World War. 

When he returned home to Belfast, Magennis was met with a frosty reception as his bravery was not accepted by either the staunch Unionists who did not like the fact that a working class Catholic had been awarded Northern Ireland's only WWII VC, nor by the Nationalists who downplayed any Irish involvement in the British military forces. 

He relocated to England and died in Halifax, Yorkshire on the 12th of February 1986. His remains were cremated and scattered.


Additional Information
Date of Birth 27th Jan 1919 VIEW SOURCE
Date of Death 12th Feb 1986 VIEW SOURCE

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