Major John de Burgh
War hero who became stalwart of horse-racing industry in Ireland
Published 02/01/2011 | 05:00
Major John de Burgh, who has died aged 89, was awarded a Military Cross (MC) in North Africa in 1943 and had a successful post-war career in Ireland in horse-racing and the bloodstock industry.
In January 1943 De Burgh, then a captain in 152nd (Ayrshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment RA (152 FR), took part in the Battle of Bou Arada, south of Tunis. On January 18 his unit was deployed to the west of the Bou Arada-Goubellat road.
Soon after dawn, about 40 German tanks came down the valley towards Bou Arada with the sun behind them.
The 25-pounder guns of the regiment broke up the attack, but the enemy re-formed and launched two more attacks supported by 105mm guns and Stukas.
The regiment was in action all day, casualties were sustained and their ammunition supply was strained to the limit. The following day the infantry, supported by 152 FR, assaulted two features known as Hill 286 and Hill 279. Hill 286 was taken and re-taken four times in fierce and confused fighting before being conceded by the exhausted men.
De Burgh controlled the firing of his battery with great effect and called down a smoke screen to assist in the withdrawal. That night, after the Germans overran the infantry's positions, De Burgh and a sergeant from 2nd Lothians found themselves cut off and tried to man an anti-tank gun.
De Burgh was hit in the head and knocked out and, when he came to, found himself surrounded by Germans.
He managed to pass through them under cover of darkness and find his way back to his unit. Despite suffering considerably from his wounds, he insisted on handing in an important report before consenting to be taken to an advanced dressing station. He was awarded an MC.
John Hubert de Burgh was born in London on February 17, 1921, and educated at Stowe. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was commissioned and joined 152 FR. He disembarked with his regiment at Algiers in November 1942, and after the action in which he won his MC, took part in the Italian campaign.
After the war he transferred to the 16th/5th Lancers for a spell. He rode 12 winners, in Europe, as an amateur jockey before being demobilised in 1947; he then rode successfully in Britain. He then came to Ireland where he restored his family's estate at Naas, Co Kildare, in the process building up a successful stud farm.
This produced a Group One winner in 1964, a double Oaks winner (Fair Salinia) in 1978 and, in 1984, achieved a record price for a yearling at the Newmarket sales. De Burgh was elected to the Turf Club in 1961. He served on the Irish Racing board for 15 years.
John de Burgh died last month. He is survived by his wife Clare Shennan, and their two sons and a daughter.