William Henry Debonnaire “Mac” McCarthy GC (AM exchanger)

b. 02/04/1911 Kensington, London. d. 21/07/1978 Portsmouth, Hampshire.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 03/01/1943 Benghazi, Libya.

William Henry Debonnaire “Mac” McCarthy (1911-1978) was born on 2nd April 1911 in Kensington, London, the only son of William and Alice Mary McCarthy (nee Carley). His father was a butcher’s assistant who died when William junior was just two. His mother re-married soon afterwards and the family moved to Camberwell. He had two step-brothers. In 1917, when William was just 6, his step-father died, and when he was 9, his mother passed away. The three boys were then cared for by other family members but after a short while were split up before being taken in by Dr Barnardo’s.

William H D McCarthy GC

William then attended Watts Naval Training School in Elmham, Norfolk and it proved a good grounding for a future career in the Royal Navy. In 1927, aged 16, he joined the Navy as a Boy 2nd Class and was given the nickname “Mac” which stuck with him for the rest of his life. In 1930, he was promoted to Able Seaman, then Leading Seaman in 1936, and Boatswain in 1939, just prior to World War II.

Mac’s life changed on 3rd January 1943, whilst serving aboard HMS Nile off the coast of Benghazi, Libya. Some Indian seamen were thrown into the sea from a raft. McCarthy dived into a tempestuous sea and swam to them with a line which had been thrown to him. He caught hold of one of them and successfully brought him ashore. Then he returned to the rescue of another. There was a grave risk that he would be dashed against the rocks by the gales and high seas.

On 23rd July 1943, William McCarthy was gazetted for the Albert Medal of Lifesaving at Sea, though he was not to receive the medal until 18th May 1945 from King George VI at Buckingham Palace due to his war service. He remained in the Navy after the war, serving on HMS Victory at Portsmouth from 1945-1946, HMS Bulawayo from 1949-1950, and back to HMS Victory from 1952-1953. From 1954-1956 he served in Gibraltar on HMS Rooke and in 1957 was promoted to Lieutenant Commander on HMS Angelo in Malta. His last appointment was to HMS Dryad as a Staff Officer. He retired from the Navy on 2nd April 1961 after 34 years’ service.

Mac had met his future wife, Violet Glover, during the war, and married in June 1945 in London. They had a daughter Carolyn in 1946 and a second daughter, Jackie, in 1948. On his retirement, the family lived in Portsmouth initially as the two girls were settled at grammar school. In civilian life he worked as a securities agent/debt councillor and later for the civil service before retirement at the age of 65 in 1976. Sadly, his retirement was to be a very short one. His wife fell ill with cancer and he became her carer, before he died of a heart attack on 21st July 1978, aged 67. He was cremated at Portchester Crematorium, and his life is commemorated in the Book of Remembrance.

Mac’s medals including his GC (he chose to exchange after 1971), 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, Africa Star with “North Africa 1942-1943” clasp, Burma Star, War Medal 1939-45, Naval General Service Medal 1915-1962 with clasp “Near East” and QEII Silver Jubilee Medal 1977 were passed to his wife after his death. On her death, they became the property of their two daughters. In 1982, Carolyn and Jackie decided to place the medals on permanent loan to the Imperial War Museum, London where they are now displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery.