John William Ormsby VC

A Dewsbury Great.  

One of a select group of individuals born, bred or living in Dewsbury who have made their mark on their town and country. The Dewsbury Greats have featured in various exhibitions and publications since they were first researched and published in 1992.

Bravery in defying World War I machine gun fire earned him the VC

photo of John William Ormsby VC

Sgt John William Ormsby VC in his army uniform

THE outstanding courage of World War I hero Sgt John William Ormsby, of Dewsbury, earned him the most distinguished decoration a sovereign can bestow — the Victoria Cross.
It was a medal which for many years was to take pride of place at every civic function in Dewsbury.

Sgt Ormsby survived the war and was able to return home to receive his VC from the King — but he would never forget his many comrades who lost their lives.  He would say to those who admired the medals he wore: “I wear them for those who never came home — the real heroes"

Sgt Ormsby. married with two children, came from a humble family background and attended the tiny Catholic school of St Joseph’s, Batley Carr. Like many more working class childlren in the 1880s. he had to leave school before fully mastering the arts of reading and writing. But years later he was to receive personal letters from kings and queens, shake them by the hand and dine with them at Buckingham Palace.  Sgt Ormsby, who had lived in Westtown, Dewsbury, soon became a living symbol that courage is classless and bravery knows no


Within months of being presented with the VC. Sgt Ormsby was back in the thick of the war fighting in violent and bloody bottles in France.  He wrote to his wife Catherine: "We have been over the top again — it was a big battle."  After the war be was always guest of honour at local military events and was regularly invited to royal events and presented to royalty.

Sgt Ormsby's conduct 'an inspiration to all'

IT was on the afternoon of April 14 1917 that Sgt John William Ormsbv fought his bravest battle With no thought for himself he dashed through the full force of heavy machine-gun fire to
capture an important enemy position. Although the inscription on the VC says simply: 'For Valour", the citation he received gives the full story of his heroic deed.

It reads "For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during operations which  culminated in the capture of an Important position


"Acting as company sergeant major. he showed throughout the attack absolute indifference to the heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and set a fine example. After acquiring the village, he pushed further forward.

"When the only surviving officer was wounded, he took command of the company, led them forward under heavy fire for 400 yards to a new position. He organised his new position with great skill and held his line with determination until relieved of his command. His conduct throughout was admirable and inspired confidence in every man under his command."

Sgt Ormsby was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Bucking ham Palace on July 21.

ALTHOUGH the present (1992) Ormsby family have most of the personal items belonging to their famous ancestor, it is ironic that the most important is out of their care and keeping.

The Victoria Cross was presented to the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry museum in York by Sgt Ormsby’s only son. the late William John Ormsby.


He wanted to make sure that his father’s medal would go where it was appreciated and where it would stay forever.

Sgt Ormsby (centre, front) with his comrades in arms

Taught young how to box at academy

THE people of Dewsbury had a public appeal for Sgt Ormsby which raised £500, a great sum in those days.

He invested his new-found wealth in a horse and cart and set up business as a “General Carrier and Marine Store Dealer".

When he was not going round the streets in search of business, he was teaching deprived youngsters from the back streets and slums how to play rugby and how to box.


A keep-fit fanatic with a strong sense of discipline, Sgt Ormsby was concerned about the young men in Dewsbury who were out of work and getting into trouble with the law.

He started his own boxing academy — ‘The Ormsby Boxing Troupe” — which soon became a popular attraction at local fairs and open air functions.  He helped train many locally famous boxers, including Paddy Lyons, who won a number of middleweight championships.


Up to his death in 1960. Sgt Ormsby was one of the most highly respected citizens in Dewsbury.

He was a member of St Paulinus Church and went to Mass there every day of his adult life.
Even in old age he took part In all the ex-servicemen's parades and functions