This WWI Soldier Fought So Bravely, Even Captured Enemies Congratulated Him
This WWI Soldier Fought So Bravely, Even Captured Enemies Congratulated Him

This WWI Soldier Fought So Bravely, Even Captured Enemies Congratulated Him

Wyatt Redd - September 30, 2017

This WWI Soldier Fought So Bravely, Even Captured Enemies Congratulated Him
Fighting At Gallipoli. 6th Gurkha Rifles

Gallipoli was a good plan in theory but from the first moments of the attack, when a number of British ships ran into Ottoman mines and sank, the execution was a disaster. The idea was for ANZAC troops to mount amphibious landings and take the heights surrounding the straights. However, at nearly every landing site troops were dropped in the wrong locations and instantly ran against Ottoman machine gun defenses that turned the landing zones into torrents of death. The attack stalled, leaving hundreds of thousands of Allied troops essentially stranded in enemy territory.

That was where McCarthy found himself, trapped in the pocket at Gallipoli. Within a few weeks, the cramped conditions and difficulty of supply lead to outbreaks of disease that killed thousands of men. Even McCarthy was not immune from the danger and finally had to be evacuated in November due to an illness. Within a month, the rest of the AIF would follow and Gallipoli was declared a failure. Back in England, Churchill was forced to shoulder the blame and tearfully resigned, sure that his career was over. But just like McCarthy, the greatest trial of his life still lay ahead.

With the Ottoman front frozen in a stalemate, McCarthy’s unit was redeployed to France to take the line against the German army in what was turning out to be the bloodiest battle in history up to that point, the Battle of the Somme. The Somme began in July 1916 when the Allies, desperate to strike a fatal blow against the Germans, launched a massive offensive near the Somme River in Northern France. And within the first 24 hours of the offensive, there were almost 70,000 Allied casualties. McCarthy soon found himself thrust into this meat grinder at a little town on the front called Pozières.

The battle of Pozières began when the Allied high command needed someone to take the heights surrounding the town, which would give them a commanding view of the German position nearby. And it was McCarthy’s unit that got the nod. So in the early hours of July 1st, McCarthy, by now promoted to Sergeant, led his men through the gloom towards the heavily fortified German lines. The bugle sounded and the ANZAC troops hurled themselves against the German trenches. The fighting was intensely bloody as the men braved fields of machine-gun fire and barbed wire.

The men of the A.I.F began to fall in huge numbers. But rather than withdrawal, McCarthy led his men into near-suicidal attacks onto the German trenches. Tur The Australians even broke through German defenses twice but were driven out by fierce German counter-attacks both times with heavy losses. Finally, the troops managed to capture the city after an intense shell barrage that reduced it to rubble. But now the Australians were in an even worse position. Pozières was the only position on the entire line at the Somme where the Allies had gained ground at all. And the Germans were now determined to push them out at all costs.

This WWI Soldier Fought So Bravely, Even Captured Enemies Congratulated Him
British Troops at the Somme. History In An Hour

Turning their guns on the city, the Germans subjected McCarthy and his troops to some of the worst artillery bombardment that any Australian unit had ever faced. It was so fierce that one of the routes through the city soon got the nickname, “the street of death.” Over the next few weeks, the German army began a pattern where they would subject the city to a hellish artillery barrage and then mount a massive counter-attack. But through it all, the Australians managed to hold the city, though not without cost. Of the 23,000 men who had taken the city, over 5,000 were now dead. It was an event that motivated one historian to describe the ridge around the city as “more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.”

For his unwavering courage and leadership during the fighting, McCarthy was eventually promoted to Second Lieutenant. He served in that role for the rest of the war, fighting in dozens of engagements across the front. One day, in August 1918, McCarthy found himself in the Madam Woods of France. There he received orders to lead his battalion in an assault on German positions. McCarthy and his men advanced through the woods, knocking out German machine guns and seizing trenches. Though McCarthy’s battalion managed to capture his objectives, he soon got word that another Australian battalion was pinned down under heavy machine gunfire.

McCarthy chose three men to follow and took off towards the German guns. For a guy with the nickname “Fats,” McCarthy was surprisingly fast and soon outpaced his companions. Alone, McCarthy leaped into the German trenches. Finding himself facing the German machine-gun position that was holding up the Australian advance, McCarthy attacked, lobbing grenade after grenade into the position until a blood-soaked handkerchief emerged, signaling the enemy wanted to surrender. In quick succession, McCarthy destroyed three more machine gun nests with a combination of hand grenades and sheer audacity.

When he reached the third machine gun, McCarthy found himself surrounded by twenty Germans. Instead of attacking, they were so impressed by his courage and fighting ability that they gathered together to pat him on the back and surrendered. When the smoke cleared, McCarthy had killed twenty men, captured fifty, and secured five hundred meters of trenches, all within twenty minutes.

Word of McCarthy’s actions earned him the highest decoration for bravery, the Victoria Cross. In November of that year, the war finally ended, putting a close to one of the most destructive conflicts in the 20th century. McCarthy moved back to Western Australia where he lived out his life working a number of quiet office jobs. Humble to the end, McCarthy rejected any attempt to describe his actions as especially heroic. As he once said, there is “a V.C. in everybody if given a chance.”

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