Captain Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen VC, SGM (8 October 1891 – 5 November 1940) is an Irish Victoria Cross recipient. He was the third Irishman to receive the award in the Second world war. The VC is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British, Irish and Commonwealth forces.
World War I
On 24 March 1918, while the British ship S.S. War Knight was proceeding up the English Channel in convoy, she collided with the United States oil carrier O.B. Jennings. It appears that the naphtha, which was on board the latter vessel, ignited, and the two ships and surrounding water were soon enveloped in flames. The Master of the O.B. Jennings gave orders that all the ship’s available boats should be lowered, those on the starboard side were burnt, and the crew abandoned the ship in the port boats, whilst the Master, Chief Engineer, Chief Officer and three others remained on board. H.M.S. Garland, under the command of Lieutenant Fegen, with other destroyers, were proceeding to the spot to render assistance, when it was seen that one boat which had been lowered from the O.B. Jennings had been swamped. The Garland closed the O.B. Jennings, rescued the men from the swamped boat, and then proceeded alongside the ship, which was still blazing, and rescued those who were still on board. She afterwards proceeded to pick up the others who had left the ship in boats, rescuing in all four officers and twenty-two men. Lieutenant Fegen handled his ship in a very able manner under difficult conditions during the rescue of the survivors, while Quartermaster Driscoll worked the helm and saw that all orders to the engine-room were correctly carried out, and his actions during this rescue resulted in both being awarded Silver Sea Gallantry Medals.
A little later in his naval career, Fegen was seconded to the newly formed Royal Australian Navy, and during 1928-29, served as executive officer in the Royal Australian Naval College, which was located on Jervis Bay on the south coast of New South Wales. By coincidence, the vessel on which he later achieved fame (and death) was named after this bay.
World War II
He was 49 years old, and an acting captain in the Royal Navy during World War II when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.
On 5 November 1940 in the Atlantic, Captain Fegen, commanding the armed merchantman HMS Jervis Bay, was escorting 37 ships of Convoy HX-84, when they were attacked by the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer. Captain Fegen immediately engaged the enemy head-on, thus giving the ships of the convoy time to scatter. Out-gunned and on fire Jervis Bay maintained the unequal fight for 22 minutes, although the captain’s right arm was shattered, and even after he died when the bridge was shot from under him. He went down with his ship but it was due to him that 31 ships of the convoy escaped including the SS San Demetrio.
He was remembered in Winston Churchill’s famous broadcast speech on 13 May 1945 “Five years of War”, as having defended Ireland’s honour:
“When I think of these days I think also of other episodes and personalities. I do not forget Lieutenant-Commander Esmonde, V.C., D.S.O., Lance-Corporal Kenneally, V.C., Captain Fegen, V.C., and other Irish heroes that I could easily recite, and all bitterness by Britain for the Irish race dies in my heart. I can only pray that in years which I shall not see, the shame will be forgotten and the glories will endure, and that the peoples of the British Isles and of the British Commonwealth of Nations will walk together in mutual comprehension and forgiveness.”