b. 21/01/1892 York, Western Australia. d. 25/05/1975 Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Lawrence Dominic “Fats” McCarthy (1892-1975), named at birth Florence Joseph, was born on 21st January 1892 at York, Western Australia, son of Florence McCarthy of Cork, Ireland, and his wife Anne, née Sherry. His parents died when he was very young and he was brought up in Clontarf Orphanage, Perth, and educated in Catholic schools.
McCarthy was working as a contractor when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 16th October 1914; he was posted as a private to the 16th Battalion and sailed for Egypt in December. On 26th April 1915 ‘Fats’—the appropriate and affectionate nickname earned by his ‘ample frame’—landed at Gallipoli with ‘C’ Company. Appointed lance corporal on 13th May, he was promoted corporal on 19th July and sergeant on 1st September. That month he was evacuated because of illness, returning to duty in November. On 20th 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 Pozières and Mouquet Farm in August. On 8th March 1917 McCarthy was appointed company sergeant major and on 10th April was commissioned second lieutenant. Next day he was wounded at Bullecourt and evacuated to England, rejoining his unit on 9th July. A lieutenant from 1st November, he received the French Croix de Guerre at Beaumetz two days later. From 31st January 1918 he was posted to the 13th Training Battalion, Tidworth, England, returning to the 16th in time for the offensive of 8th August.
Near Madam Wood, east of Vermandovillers, France, on 23th 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 Pozières’. 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 21st November 1918 McCarthy was again evacuated, ill, to England. He returned home on 20th December 1919 and his A.I.F. appointment ended on 6th August 1920. In England, on 25th January 1919, he had married Florence (Flossie) Minnie Norville, at Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. Their only child Lawrence Norville was killed in action on Bougainville in 1945.
‘Mac’ moved from Western Australia to Victoria in 1926 where he joined the staff of the Sunshine Harvester Works. He remained with the company, mostly as a traveller in the Mallee, until the Depression forced staff reductions in 1934. From 1935 until his retirement in 1969 he was superintendent of the Trustees, Executors & Agency Co. Ltd building, Melbourne.
He attended the V.C. centenary celebrations in London in 1956 and was present at the opening of V.C. Corner at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, in 1964. A most popular, generous and unassuming man, he took a keen interest in community affairs.
Laurie McCarthy died at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, Melbourne, on 25th May 1975 and was cremated with full military honours at Springvale Crematorium, Melbourne, and his ashes interred. He was survived by his wife who donated his V.C. and medals to the Australian War Memorial, which also holds his portrait by Charles Wheeler.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA
BURIAL PLACE: SPRINGVALE CEMETERY, SPRINGVALE, AUSTRALIA. (SECTION C PLOT 015)
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of the McCarthy VC Medal Group at Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Richard Yielding – Image of the McCarthy VC Plaque at Springvale Crematorium, Melbourne.
Thomas Stewart – Image of the McCarthy VC Memorial in Vermandovillers, France.