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Lieutenant Colonel sacrifices his own life to save others

Year 1956

Read by Jamie Sheldon – Supporter, Royal Humane Society

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O’Sullivan, Hugh Barry, Lieutenant Colonel, M.C., Royal Tank Regiment

Posthumous Award Stanhope Gold Medal 1956

Attempted to save Lieutenant David Henry Thomas Blackburn, Royal Tank Regiment, and Michael Morton, both deceased, and saved Mrs Margaret O’Sullivan.

The action took place in the sea, off Culver Cliff, Isle of Wight, on 29th July, 1956 at 1.56 p.m. It was 1 1/3 miles from the shore with a full gale from the South-west blowing. The sea was very rough and those involved were in the water for four hours . The survivors were taken from the water by one of Her Majesty’s ships – H.M.S. Keppel.

Lieut-Col O’Sullivan was out sailing in a Bermudan sloop with three other people, i.e. Mrs O’Sullivan (his wife), Lt Blackburn and a Mr Morton. A gale sprang up and after a long period of sailing in extremely dangerous weather the sloop broke up and sank, but the dinghy was thrown clear.

Lt-Col O’Sullivan helped and inspired the other three members of the crew while they were hanging on the keel of the dinghy. Mr Morton lost consciousness and Lt-Col O’Sullivan held him on to the dinghy until it was obvious that he was dead.

H.M.S. Keppel came to their assistance and saw the three people remaining round the waterlogged dinghy. The wind was a full gale from the S.W. and the sea very rough. Lt-Col O’Sullivan took off his life-jacket to wave to the ship and attract attention. Lt Blackburn drifted away from the dinghy and Lt-Col O’Sullivan hauled him back and continued to support him. The crew of the Keppel then took Mrs O’Sullivan aboard but, in the meantime, Blackburn drifted away again and Lt-Col O’Sullivan swam off to try and help him. Because of the state of the wind and the sea the ship drifted away during the rescue of Mrs O’Sullivan and lost sight of Lt-Col O’Sullivan and Lt Blackburn. Despite a search they were unable to find them again. In such a sea Lt-Col O’Sullivan, who left the dinghy to try and help Lt Blackburn, had no chance of surviving for more than a short time, hampered as he was by his oilskins and without his life- jacket. It is considered that his gallant conduct showed complete disregard for his personal safety in attempting to save Lt Blackburn.

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