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Western Australia's VC record of WW1


Although a very subjective measure (winning medals is often a matter of luck and survival).....the 1st AIF was awarded more Victoria Crosses than any other part of the British Army on a proportional basis. Of these Western Australia won more on a proportional basis than any other State. Of the 53 VCs won by Australians,10 WW1 VC winners were enlisted in Western Australian units.
 

Memorial picture of Western Australian VC winners (missing from this picture is Captain Harry Murray VC

and Lt  Alfred Gaby.


LtCol Harry Murray VC, CMG, DSO & bar, DCM, MiD (4)  (CdeG) 16 Bn and 13 Bn

The most highly decorated British Empire serviceman of  WW! and the most highly decorated Australian of all.
He landed at Gallipoli as a Private on 25 April 1915 and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) in June 1915. he rose to LtCol by the end of the war. In May 1919 was created a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG).

 

Capt (later Lt Col) Murray commanded the Right flank Coy in the attack by the 13th Battn on Stormy Trench, N.E. of Guedecourt on night of 4-5/2/17. I placed him on the Right flank because it was the most dangerous and critical. He led his Coy to the assault with great skill and courage and the position was quickly captured. Then followed the severest fighting in the history of the 13th Battn and I am sure that the position could not have been held and our efforts crowned by victory but for the wonderful work of this Officer, His Coy beat off one counter attack after another, three big attacks in all, although one of these consisted of no less than five separate bombing attacks. All through the night the enemy concentrated the fire of many 4.2s and 5.9s on the sector of trench held by this Coy, and in 24 hours the fighting strength dwindled steadily from 140 to 48, 92 casualties including 1 Officer killed and 2 Officers wounded. On one occasion the men gave ground for 20 yards but Capt Murray rushed to the front and rallied them by sheer valour, with his revolver in one hand and a bomb in the other he was ubiquitous, cheering his men heading bombing parties leading bayonet charges or carrying wounded from the dangerously shelled areas, with unequalled bravery. So great was his power of inspiration, so great was his example that not a single man in his Coy reported himself shell shocked although the shelling was frightful and the trench at times was a shambles that beggars description. His Coy would follow him anywhere and die for him to a man. He won the D.C.M. at Anzac and the D.S.O. at Mouquet Farm in France.



Capt Harry Murray


Lt Alfred Gaby 28 Bn

Lt Gaby was acting as commander of 'D' Company when, as part of the 2nd Division, his battalion was engaged in the great allied offensive of 8 August 1918. The 28th Battalion attacked German positions east of Villers-Bretonneux and in the course of this action Gaby showed conspicuous bravery and dash in leading and reorganizing his company when it was held up by barbed wire entanglements. He found a gap in the wire, and single-handedly, approached an enemy strong point in the face of machine-gun and rifle fire. 'Running along the parapet, still alone, and at point-blank range, he emptied his revolver into the garrison', driving the crews from their guns and capturing fifty men and four machine-guns. He then reorganized his men and captured his objective. On 11 August 1918 in another attack near Lihons, during which he again showed bravery and coolness in engaging an enemy machine-gun position, he was killed by sniper fire. In recording his death the war diary of the 28th Battalion paid special tribute to this gallant officer. He was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously and was buried in Heath cemetery, Harbonničres.



Lt Gaby


Capt Hugo Throssell 10 LH

Hugo Throssell was born in Northam, Western Australia on 27 October 1884, the son of former Premier of Western Australia George Throssell. In 1914, he joined the 10th Light Horse Regiment, Australian Imperial Force. As a second lieutenant he fought at Gallipoli during the First World War, when the following deed took place for which he was later awarded the Victoria Cross:

On 29/30 August 1915 at Kaiakij Aghala (Hill 60), Gallipoli, Turkey, Second Lieutenant Throssell, although severely wounded in several places, refused to leave his post during a counter-attack or to obtain medical assistance until all danger was passed, when he had his wounds dressed and returned to the firing line until ordered out of action by the Medical Officer. By his personal courage and example he kept up the spirits of his party and was largely instrumental in saving the situation at a critical period.


Whilst recuperating from his wounds in London he was introduced to Katharine Susannah Prichard, who would later become a famous Australian author and socialist. He eventually returned to active service, rejoining the 10th Light Horse in the Middle East where he fought in a number of engagements, and achieved the rank of Captain. He returned home in 1918 and in 1919 married katherine Prichard.


In the following years Hugo was an outspoken opponent of war, and claimed that the suffering he had seen had made him a socialist. His stance on the futility of war outraged many people, especially as they were coming from a national war hero and the son of a respected and conservative former premier. His very public political opinions badly damaged his employment prospects, and he fell deeply into financial debt. On 13 November 1933, he killed himself. Sadly his son, in later years, also committed suicide.



Capt Hugo Throssell


Private J. Carroll, 33 Bn

7 - 10 June 1917        Private J. Carroll, 33rd Battalion, originally from Brisbane, won the Victoria Cross at St Ives (battle of Messines).

LCpl Carroll was awarded the Victoria Cross as a Pte for "most conspicuous bravery" on 7 - 10 July 1917 at St Ives, France. As soon as the gunfire lifted during an attack, Pte Carroll rushed the enemy's trench and bayoneted four men, he then continued on discovering a machine gun and a team of four men in a shell hole. He attacked the team, killing three of the men and capturing the gun. He later managed to rescue two of his fellow soldiers after they were buried by a shell explosion. Pte Carroll was wounded twice before returning to Australia in August 1918 for discharge.


Carroll was known among his A.I.F. comrades as 'the wild Irishman. He was casual and happy-go-lucky by nature. He missed three dates for his investiture with the V.C. and had to be sent for on the fourth occasion. After the ceremony he amused himself by exercising the Victoria Cross winners' right to turn out the Buckingham Palace Guard. He was also known as 'Referendum Carroll' because he rarely said anything but yes or no.


Pte Carroll


Private JP Woods, 48 Bn

18 September 1918 - Private James Park Woods, 48th Battalion, wins the Victoria Cross at Le Viguier.

On 18 September the 48th Battalion attacked the Hindenburg outpost line near Le Verguier, north-west of St Quentin. It took its objective, but British troops on the Australian flank were held up and a company of the 48th was sent in support. Ordered on patrol, Woods and two companions discovered a German post comprising six machine-guns and over thirty troops. Without waiting for the force which was being organized to assault the strong-point, Woods led his small party against it. One German was wounded, another was captured and the rest of the garrison fled. The Germans then counter-attacked. Despite heavy fire, Woods climbed onto the parapet and, while lying there, held off successive attacks by throwing bombs handed to him by his companions. So effective was his defence that, when Australian reinforcements arrived, they were easily able to secure the post. Woods was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the action.


Pte J Woods


Lt C Pope 11 Bn

Charles Pope enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 25 August 1915 and on 10 February 1916 was commissioned second lieutenant from the rank of sergeant in the 11th Battalion (18th Reinforcements). On 15 July he embarked at Fremantle in the transport Ajana and reached England in September. On 10 December he joined the 11th Battalion in France and on 26 December was promoted Lieutenant.


On 15 April 1917 Pope was killed in action at Louverval and was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. He had been placed in command of a picquet post in the sector held by his battalion, his orders being to hold this post at all costs. The post was attacked and surrounded by Germans. Pope, finding that he was running short of ammunition, sent back to headquarters for supplies but the ammunition party could not get through. In the hope of holding his position Pope ordered his men to charge a large enemy force and they were overpowered. His body and those of his men were found among eighty enemy dead—sure proof of the gallant resistance which had been made. Pope was buried in Moeuvres communal cemetery extension, France.


Lt Pope


Lt C.W.K. Sadlier 51 Bn

Sadlier was working as a commercial traveller when he enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force in May 1915. Posted to the 1st Australian General Hospital, Australian Army Medical Corps, he embarked for Egypt in June and served with the hospital at Heliopolis. In March 1916 he returned to Australia on nursing duties, but on 9 November he re-embarked for active service as an acting Sergeant with the 7th Reinforcements for the 51st Battalion. In England he reverted to the rank of Private on 11 January 1917, but in February began a course at the school for non-commissioned officers, Tidworth. Crossing to France, he joined the 51st Battalion, 13th Brigade, on 13 May. He was promoted Corporal five days later and was commissioned s2nd Lieutenant on 14 July and promoted Lieutenant on 1 April 1918.


Sadlier won the Victoria Cross for what the official historian, C. E. W. Bean, called 'an extraordinarily bold attack' on German machine-gunners during the 2nd battle of Villers-Bretonneux on 24-25 April 1918. The Germans had re-taken the town in a dawn attack on 24 April. Allied counter-attacks were carried on all day without success but towards evening hurried orders were given for another counter-attack using the 13th Brigade on the south and the 15th Brigade on the north. The 51st and 52nd Battalions were allotted for the 13th Brigade's advance and they set out at 10.10 p.m., in darkness and under enemy artillery fire. Beforehand they had been told to ignore any noise in a wood to their left as British troops were clearing out small enemy parties there. Hardly had the advance begun, however, when several machine-guns opened up on the Western Australians. Most of the company adjoining Sadlier's were killed but Sadlier led his men forward, only to be halted again by machine-guns. He organized a bombing attack and, having located the nearest machine-gun post, led a Lewis-gunner and a bombing party against it. Before the Germans had recovered, the Australians were in among the trees, fighting wildly in the dark. Hurling bombs as they ran, they silenced one machine-gun post and although Sadlier was shot in the thigh they went on to destroy two more. Sadlier was then shot again, this time in the arm, and was forced to the rear but his few remaining men continued the job and the threat to the 13th Brigade's advance was removed. Although running an hour late it got through and linked up with the 15th. By dawn Villers-Bretonneux was again in allied hands.


Lt Sadlier

 

Cpl M O'Meara 16 Bn

Martin O'Meara joined the AIF in Perth on 19 August 1915 and left Australia with the 12th Reinforcements for the 16th Battalion in December. After training in Egypt in early 1916 the battalion moved to the Western Front in France where it fought on the Somme. On 9-12 August the 16th mounted an attack on German positions at Mouquet Farm near Pozičres. Devastating German artillery fire caused heavy casualties, an entry in the battalion war diary on 12 August stating laconically that 'the trench as a trench had ceased to exist'.


During this period O'Meara, then acting as a stretcher-bearer, behaved in a manner which led one officer to describe him as 'the most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen'. He was credited with having saved the lives of over twenty-five wounded men by carrying them in from no man's land 'under conditions that are undescribable'. Even after the battalion was relieved its commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel E. Drake-Brockman, saw O'Meara returning to the front line through the bombardment to rescue two wounded comrades despite having himself 'reached a position of comparative safety'. At other times he had, on his own initiative, brought up much-needed supplies of grenades, ammunition and food. For these actions O'Meara was awarded the Victoria Cross.


O'Meara spent the rest of the war with the 16th Battalion; he was wounded three times and promoted sergeant. In November 1918 he returned to Australia and was discharged from the A.I.F. in Perth in November 1919. His war experiences caused a complete breakdown in his health for he spent the rest of his life in military hospitals, suffering from chronic mania. He was too ill to attend a special Armistice Day dinner in 1929 given by the governor of Western Australia for the State's V.C. winners. He died in Claremont Mental Hospital, Perth, on 20 December 1935. His death certificate gave his occupation as 'returned soldier'. He was buried with full military honours in Karrakatta Catholic cemetery.

 

 

 

Lt L D McCarthy 16 Bn

Lawrence McCarthy enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 16 October 1914; he was posted as a private to the 16th Battalion and sailed for Egypt in December. On 26 April 1915 'Fat'—the appropriate and affectionate nickname earned by his 'ample frame'—landed at Gallipoli with 'C' Company. Appointed lance corporal on 13 May, he was promoted corporal on 19 July and sergeant on 1 September. That month he was evacuated because of illness, returning to duty in November. On 20 December he left Gallipoli with the last party of his battalion.


The 16th Battalion reached France in June 1916 and took part in heavy fighting around Pozičres and Mouquet Farm in August. On 8 March 1917 McCarthy was appointed company sergeant major and on 10 April was commissioned second lieutenant. Next day he was wounded at Bullecourt and evacuated to England, rejoining his unit on 9 July. A lieutenant from 1 November, he received the French Croix de Guerre at Beaumetz two days later. From 31 January 1918 he was posted to the 13th Training Battalion, Tidworth, England, returning to the 16th in time for the offensive of 8 August.


Near Madam Wood, east of Vermandovillers, France, on 23 August McCarthy performed what the official war historian rated as 'perhaps the most effective feat of individual fighting in the history of the A.I.F., next to Jacka's at Pozičres'. The 16th Battalion, with McCarthy commanding 'D' Company, had attained its objectives but the battalion on the left was unable to make headway. Accompanied by Sergeant F. J. Robbins, D.C.M., M.M., McCarthy attacked the German machine-gun posts which were preventing its advance. They raced into the enemy trench system, shooting and bombing as they went, destroying three machine-gun positions. When his mate fell wounded, McCarthy pressed on, picking up German bombs as he continued to fight down the trench 'inflicting heavy casualties'. Coming upon another enemy pocket, he shot two officers and bombed the post until a blood-stained handkerchief signalled the surrender of the forty occupants.


This feat of bravery, which resulted in the award of the Victoria Cross, had an extraordinary conclusion. As the battalion historian records, 'the prisoners closed in on him from all sides … and patted him on the back!' In twenty minutes he had killed twenty Germans, taken fifty prisoners and seized 500 yards (460 m) of the German front. This jovial hero believed that there was 'a V.C. in everybody if given a chance'.


On 21 November 1918 McCarthy was again evacuated, ill, to England. He returned home on 20 December 1919 and his A.I.F. appointment ended on 6 August 1920. His only child Lawrence Norville was killed in action on Bougainville in 1945.


Lt McCarthy

Cpl T Axford

Cpl Axford was awarded the Victoria Cross as Lance Corporal (LCpl) for "most conspicuous bravery and initiative during operations" on 4 July 1918 at Vaire and Hamel Woods. LCpl Axford left his platoon and attacked an enemy machine gun crew, killing ten of the enemy and taking six prisoners. He then returned to his platoon for the remainder of the operation.

Prior to receiving the Victoria Cross he was awarded the Military Medal. He returned to Australia and was discharged on 6 February 1919, later serving in the Australian Military Forces between 1941 and 1947.

 

Cpl Axford



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