Dease, Maurice James (1889–1914), soldier, first VC of the first world war, was born 28 September 1889, only son of Edmund Fitzlaurence Dease, JP, of Coole, Co. Westmeath, and Katherine Dease (née Murray) of Beech Hill, Co. Cork. His family had connections with Co. Meath and Co. Westmeath going back to the seventeenth century; its members included Thomas Dease (qv), bishop of Meath 1621–52, Edmund Gerald Dease, MP for Queen's Co. 1870–80, and Sir Gerald Richard Dease (1831–1903), chamberlain to the lord lieutenant of Ireland. Maurice was educated at Frognal Park School, Hampstead, Stonyhurst College, and Wimbledon College; at Wimbledon he enrolled in the college's army class, prior to entering the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Commissioned as a second lieutenant (May 1910), he was gazetted to the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), attended a mountain warfare course in Wales, and subsequently served as scout officer and acting adjutant. Promoted to lieutenant (April 1912), he was appointed machine-gun (MG) officer in the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers.
At the outbreak of war the battalion, with Dease still its MG officer, was sent to Belgium as part of the British Expeditionary Force, and on the morning of Sunday 23 August 1914 was in the line north of Mons, guarding the railway bridge over the canal at Nimy. When the German attack began at around 10 a.m., the Royal Fusiliers and two other battalions were blocking the advance of the German IX Army Corps. Dease had positioned his two machine-guns at the end of the bridge, which soon attracted heavy German fire; every member of the guns' crews was either killed or wounded in the morning's action. Despite the risk to himself, he left cover on several occasions to clear his guns for action and direct their fire. Although wounded twice, he remained on the bridge until he eventually suffered a third, and mortal, wound. Carried to the rear, he died soon after. The obstinate defence of Nimy bridge organised by Dease and his gun crews inflicted severe casualties on the advancing Germans, who despite their numerical superiority failed to press home their attack. When the defending British troops were ordered to withdraw, they did so in good order.
In November 1914 Dease was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the first award of that decoration in the war, during which thirty-one Irishmen won VCs. He is buried in Saint-Symphorien military cemetery, Mons, Belgium, and is commemorated on a memorial under Nimy bridge. There are further memorials in Westminster cathedral; Stonyhurst College; RMA, Sandhurst; and the churchyard at Coole, Co. Westmeath. His VC is in the Royal Fusiliers Museum in the Tower of London. The regimental museum also has a fine oil portrait of Dease.