Case study

WW1 Australian VC recipient Lawrence Dominic McCarthy

The story of Australian First World War Victoria Cross recipient Lawrence Dominic McCarthy.

Lawrence Dominic McCarthy
Credit: Australian War Memorial P02939.036

66 men from Australia received the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, during the First World War. As part of the Centenary Commemorations the people of the United Kingdom marked their gratitude to those courageous men by presenting a bronze memorial plaque to their home country engraved with their names. The plaque is now displayed at the Australian War Memorial. This archive tells their stories.

Name: Lawrence Dominic McCarthy

DOB: 21 January 1892

Place of Birth: York, Western Australia, Australia

Date of Action: 23 August 1918

Place of Action: Madame Wood, France

Rank: Lieutenant

Regiment: 16th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force

Lawrence McCarthy (nicknamed “Fats”) was born on 21 January 1892 in Western Australia and was brought up in an orphanage in Perth. He joined the Australian Imperial Force in October 1914, and took part in the Gallipoli Landings with the 16th Battalion in April 1915. By June 1916, he was serving on the Western Front. McCarthy was commissioned in April 1917, and just one day later, he was wounded at Bullecourt and evacuated to England. In November 1917, he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

Lieutenant McCarthy was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 23 August 1918 at Madame Wood in France in a remarkable feat of individual fighting which later was referred to as the “Super VC”. His citation reads:

For most conspicuous bravery, initiative and leadership on the morning of he 23rd August 1918, in attack near Madame Wood, East of Vermandovillers (north of Chaulnes). Although the objectives of his battalion were attained without serious opposition, the battalion on the left flank was heavily opposed by well-posted machine guns. Lt. McCarthy, realising the situation at once engaged the nearest machine gun post, but still the attacking troops failed to get forward. This officer then determined to attack the nearest post. Leaving his men to continue the firefight, he with two others, dashed across the opening and succeeded in reaching the block. Although single-handedly, as he had outdistanced his comrades, and despite serious opposition and obstacles, he captured the gun and continued to fight his way down the trench, inflicting heavy casualties, and capturing more machine guns. At this stage, being some 700 yards from his starting point, he was joined by one of his men, and together they continued to bomb up the trench until touch was established with an adjoining unit. Lt McCarthy, during this most daring advance, single-handed killed twenty of the enemy and captured in addition five machine guns and fifty prisoners. By his gallant and determined action he saved a critical situation, prevented many casualties, and was mainly, if not entirely, responsible for the final objective being taken.

After the war, McCarthy married and returned to Australia, later moving to Victoria. He died in Melbourne in 1975, and was cremated with full military honours.

Published 20 June 2016