/Lawrence McCarthy and the Victoria Cross

Lawrence McCarthy and the Victoria Cross

Lieutenant Lawrence Dominic McCarthy VC (21 January 1892 – 25 May 1975) was an Australian recipient (of Irish descent) of the Victoria Cross.

Lawrence McCarthy was born in York, Western Australia, on 21 January 1892. The son of Florence McCarthy of Cork, Ireland, and his wife Anne (née Sherry), he was orphaned at a young age and was brought up in Clontarf Orphanage in Perth and educated in Catholic schools.

After completing his schooling, from the age of 13 he worked on a farm as an apprentice at Jennacubbine, near Northam. Later, he served with the 18th Light Horse regiment, a Militia unit, for two and a half years before moving to Lion Mill, Perth. He subsequently worked as a contractor saw-miller, losing three fingers on his left hand in an accident.

McCarthy was initially rejected due to his injuries when he attempted to join the Australian Imperial Force; however, he was later accepted after proving he had won a number of shooting competitions.

He enlisted (volunteered) on 16 October 1914 as a private, he was subsequently posted to the 16th Battalion, joining the newly formed unit at Blackboy Hill Camp. His large build later earned him the nickname “Fats”.

Sailing for Egypt in December, the battalion landed at Gallipoli on 26 April 1915 on the second day of the campaign against the Turkish.

McCarthy remained on the Gallipoli peninsula until illness forced his evacuation in September. By then he had been promoted to sergeant. He returned to duty in November and was among the last in his battalion to leave Gallipoli on 20 December.

The 16th Battalion arrived in France in June 1916 where they took part in the fighting against the Germans at Pozières and Mouquet Farm in August.

aif Pozières

McCarthy was appointed company sergeant major in March 1917, and the following month was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

The day after receiving his commission, McCarthy was wounded at Bullecourt and evacuated to England where he spent three months in hospital and convalescing.

Rejoining his unit on 9 July, he was promoted to lieutenant on 1 November and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre two days later.

SHATTERED: Soldiers from the 4th Division AIF field artillery during the Battle of Passchendaele in October 1917. PHOTO: Frank Hurley (Australia, 1885-1962); AWM E01220

Between February and August 1918 he was posted the 13th Training Battalion at Tidworth, England where he trained troops, before rejoining his battalion in time for the Allied ‘Hundred Days Offensive’ that began on 8 August.

On 23 August 1918, McCarthy performed what was later described in the official history as being the most effective piece of individual fighting in the history of the ‘AIF’ (Australian Imperial Force), next to Albert Jacka’s Military Cross-winning feat at Pozières. Near Madam Wood, east of Vermandovillers, France, the battalion was heavily opposed by well-posted

German machine-guns. McCarthy, realizing the situation, dashed across the open ground with two men to the nearest post, where, having out-distanced his companions, he put the gun out of action, then continued fighting his way down the trench.

Later, having been joined by one of his men, together they ‘bombed’ (throwing hand-grenades) their way along the trench until contact was established with an adjoining Australian unit.

During this action McCarthy had killed 20 of the enemy, taken 50 prisoners and captured 5 machine-guns and 500 yards (460 m) of the German front. The battalion historian wrote that following McCarthy’s feat, “the German prisoners closed in on him from all sides … and patted him on the back!” For this McCarthy was awarded the Victoria Cross that, within his battalion and in some quarters of the London press, came to be known as the “Super-VC”.

Ten days after the war ended, on 21 November 1918, McCarthy was evacuated to England with influenza, where he was subsequently informed that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his action. After recovering he rejoined his battalion on 7 January 1919, subsequently receiving the award from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 12 July 1919.

Lawrence McCarthy Victoria Cross