Was your ancestor ever in the army? Do you have a medal for an unknown soldier? Want to find out more about what they did and where they went? These questions could be answered by sources at Hampshire Archives and Local Studies which can reveal amazing stories of bravery and heroism from the past.


The Victoria Cross was introduced in 1856 during the Crimean War and has only been awarded 1,358 times. The medal is normally awarded for conspicuous bravery in the presence of the enemy however; documents in Hampshire Archives and Local Studies show how the medal was awarded for bravery in a very different scenario.

The story of Private Timothy O’Hea of the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade is revealed in the Royal Green Jackets collection.  O’Hea was stationed in Canada and was in charge of a large supply of ammunition being transported in train carts travelling from Quebec to Lake Erie.  The trucks were attached to a passenger train which was transporting over 800 German immigrants.   On 9 June 1866, the train arrived at a by-station where O’Hea noticed that one of the ammunition trucks was on fire.  He gave the alarm but his comrades, railway officials and a company of infantryman at the station, withdrew to a safe distance leaving the oblivious German immigrants to their fate.  O’ Hea refused to join his comrades and instead found a bucket, ladder and nearby water source. He made 19 trips until he finally extinguished the fire, taking nearly an hour, without any assistance.

O’Hea received the 324th Victoria Cross for his bravery for conspicuous courage under circumstances of great danger.

O’Hea retired from the army after leaving Canada and then moved to New Zealand where he became a mounted constable.  He is next discovered in Australia where he joined an expedition led by Andrew Hume to search for lost members of the Leichardt expedition in the Sturt Stony Desert region of central Australia. Unfortunately, O’Hea died on this trip in November 1874. O’Hea’s Victoria Cross can now be seen in the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester.

There are a variety of archival sources located at Hampshire Archives and Local Studies which could help you with your army ancestry, including regimental journals and official histories, rolls of honour, newspapers and militia records. Visit us for free to discover some of the amazing stories of the past.

Matthew Goodwin, Archivist


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