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srijeda, 26. prosinca 2012.

“Irish Braveheart” Thomas Crowley Posthumously Awarded Croatian Medal of Honour

I came across this particular story not that long ago. I knew that when the Yugo-Serbian hostilities commenced against Croatian independence and it's citizens, that there were volunteers coming to Croatia from around the world.  Like I touched upon previously on this blog, I was in the Canadian Armed Forces at the time and was on the verge of doing the same thing.  When the news reports first started describing the horror of Vukovar especially, I was unfortunately also in the middle of field exercises.

Unfortunately, because of my circumstances, going AWOL is a very serious charge. It would probably have meant not only coming back, but also down the road possibly being extradited for the charges.  After discussing with friends different scenarios, I decided instead to put requests through chain of command to be sent as part of the Canadian peacekeepers contingent eventually being sent there. I tried to explain how with my working knowledge of the language, having been there previously, even as recently as just months prior when the first democratic elections were taking place in Croatia, that I could possibly be a good candidate for an interpreter/liaison role too.

Long story short, the result wasn't what I wanted and hoped for.  My contract was soon to expire  in the military and so I discussed the situation with my superiors at the "Hive" and I left to go back to civilian life.  I had ordered various military kit from a local Army Surplus store and was deciding the best route to get there. However, by that time Vukovar had fallen, most of the worst of the carnage had taken place, the Serbian land grab was already occupying about 1/3 of Croatian territory and all the peacekeeping and useless political talks and dialogues were going on seemingly neverending. The world stage was now focusing on the Serbian shelling of Sarajevo and their carnage in Bosnia and Hercegovina. I was still close to leaving because there were still numerous ceasefires that were being broken by the occupying Srbs, and skirmishes here and there afterwards, but by that time the Croatian army was growing in personnel, organization and had become better armed, so I finally got talked out of it. Sometimes I look back and think I should have left when I at first planned to.  Also, I know for a fact that if my situation didn't involve the sticky issue of being in the Canadian Forces at that time, the repercussions of going AWOL, etc, (I'll let this guy explain)... I without a doubt would have been there too......

Thomas Crowley, Major of the at the time new and emerging Croatian Army (1991 – 1995)


At the Medal of Honour awards ceremony 12 December 2012 at the Office of the President of Croatia, the late Major in Croatian Army, Thomas Crowley, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Petar Zrniski and Fran Krsto Frankopan with gold triple interlace for his exceptional contribution to the defence of Croatia during Croatia’s War of Independence. The Medal was accepted on behalf of Thomas Crowley’s family from Ireland by their solicitor Mr Miroslav Vrkljan.


Thomas Crowley, nicknamed “the Irish” by his Croatian army mates, came to Croatia in 1991 as volunteer, joining Croatian men in defending Croatian independence from Serb aggression.  He saw the images on television of Yugoslav forces shelling and targeting civilians in the city of Osijek, then when saw a Yugoslav tank crushing a red Fiat car who's driver was assisting to pick up and transport wounded civilians, he decided to leave immediately to help the newly independent country.

Thomas Crowley, born Irish on 14 February 1949, came to Croatia and died as a Croatian on 10 June 1995.

I came to Croatia at the beginning of the war and I have a big wish to remain in Croatia until the last bit of its occupied territory is liberated, and then stay longer. I consider Croatia my homeland; I’m prepared to even give my life for Croatia. God willing, if I’m still alive when the war ends, I’ll stay and live in Croatia,” Crowley once said.  He did remain in Croatia – that is his remains are buried in the cemetery of Split.

Up to the 38 second mark is images of the Serbian Yugoslav General Blagoje Adzic stating "Long live the Yugoslav army, who will bring peace and freedom to Osijek".  The footage then switches to images of the Yugoslav army along with Serb paramilitary and air force bringing peace and freedom to apartment buildings, homes, schools, hospitals, parks and the people of Osijek.

Crowley became a living legend in Croatia. In 1991 he joined the Croatian Defense Forces’ (HOS) Ante Paradzik First Battalion. He was one of many foreigners who came to Croatia to help defend Croatian independence and people from the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaigns.

He was a commando at battlefield Novljani and Jasenovac. In December 1991 he transferred to the Ninth HOS Battalion in Split where he was the main instructor for HOS forces in Trogir and Cijevo army camps.

He participated in battles at Livno (where, single-handed, captured an enemy [Serb] tank), he was in battles for Mostar, Dubrovnik, Popovo Polje, Operation Maslenica, liberation of Skabrnje (where horrendous massacres of Croatian civilians by Serb forces occurred only two days after Vukovar massacres in November 1991).

Then in Zemunik he was wounded in battle. He was in Prkos to the end of April 1993 and then led the military operations near Biograd (Dalmatia). Then to Drnis battlefield, Svilaja, Donje selo and by 1994 he led the instruction camp for the 114th brigade. Some 2000 members of the 114th brigade passed through his camps.

He died on the 10th of June 1995, killed on the Southern battlefield.  17 years later to the very day, Croatia played Ireland at the 2012 UEFA European Football Championships. He is buried in Split.

 Up to the 1:00 minute mark is images of  the Yugoslav army attacking Croatian towns and cities. From 1:00 to 1:28 minute mark is images of the first stages of armed Croatian defence by only special police units.  From 1: 30 to the 2:25 minute mark is images of Serbian chetnik volunteers in Serbia joining with the Yugoslav army to assist in ethnic cleansing and genocide in Croatia.  The rest is mainly a tribute to Thomas Crowley.

Association of Foreign Volunteers of the Homeland War 1991 - 1995 

  "This organization represents all foreign volunteers who fought, risked or gave their life for the freedom and independence of Croatia "

Croatia - Bosnia / 1991 - 1995 

 Our History

As the twentieth century drew to a close communist ideology finally collapsed, and countries that had spent half a century under oppressive dictatorships now emerged to take their rightful place in the free world.

Croatia was such a country, a nation and a people who had kept alive an unfulfilled dream of independence and freedom for hundreds of years. But unlike most of eastern europe, that long denied dream would still require years of struggle and sacrifice against a dictatorship that still held on to its past.

 Croatia's towns, cities and villages were shelled relentlessly from air,land and sea. The county's religious and cultural symbols were slowly and deliberately being destroyed in the quest for a "Greater Serbia".

The International Community looked on and did nothing to halt the gross military imbalance, blatant Serbian aggression and the Armies advancing into Croatia, "cleansing" civilian areas as well as military targets as it went.

British volunteers in December 1991. Photogallery of some other foreign volunteers HERE.

We watched those pictures on television and heard politicians talk of ceasefires whilst Serb paramilitaries marched through Croatian towns. Disgusted by the inability of the international community and our own governments to halt the slaughter, individuals rose to the challenge from every civilised nation, setting aside political, ideological and cultural differences.

Most protested, raised funds or conducted humanitarian operations. Many went further to help. Volunteering to fight for Croatia, bringing with them the will to fight for another county's freedom and the courage to stay and win it.

We were welded by a shared purpose; the prevention of murder, rape and the wholesale destruction of civilian property and cultural heritage. Individuals stood when their own countries turned their backs.

We individuals became known as the Foreign Volunteers.

Present in every front-line brigade, volunteers could be found on all of Croatia's five fronts as well as in the overcrowded hospitals of Zagreb. We were an enormous boost to civilian morale and our presence in battered front-line towns brought resolve to exhausted defenders. And a realisaton that Croatia did have its allies.We helped reorganise defensive positions and stiffened crumbling units. We fought as front-line infantry and taught on the job military skills to men who weeks before were ordinary civilians going about their business. In return we learned their language, received their hospitality and gained mutual respect.

When Bosnia became the next target of the Yugoslav Army and its Serb paramilitaries the Foreign Volunteers headed south in order to help the Forces of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) in defending its land.

Many volunteers paid the ultimate price and sacrificed their lives. 76 men were killed in action and 90 injured, a 30% casualty rate. Their sacrifice helped win independence and freedom for Croatia, after five years of war.

From Vukovar in the east, West to Pula and south to Prevlaka. One nation, one people, all free.

Our Aims

Our aim is to remind the world of our contribution and sacrifice for a countrys independence, to get rid of the myth of foreign volunteers as "mercenaries", also we aim to get recognition from the Croatian authorities and have the same rights as Croatian veterans.



Last known photograph of Jean-Michel Nicolier before executed by Serb chetniks and paramilitaries at the  Ovcara Hospital massacre after the fall of Vukovar.

Members of the International Foreign Volunteer's arrive for ceremony to commemorate the victims  17 years after after the "Fall of Vukovar"

Every November the members and friends of the USDDR meet up in Vinkovci, Croatia.  We attend the national Vukovar remembrance parade as well as our own remembrance ceremonies; at Ovcara, where 200 people incuding Ivan Herman (Austria) and Jean-Michel Nicolier (France) were executed following the fall of Vukovar. Also we have a ceremony in Vinkovci itself where we remember the foreigners killed in action.

The town of Vukovar today.

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