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Dominic McCarthy, Australian WWI hero admired even by his 50 POWs

Being a hero among your own is neither hard nor uncommon. But, being admired by your enemies might be the surest sign of heroism there is. This was the case of Dominic McCarthy, Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross.

Born in 1892 in Western Australia, Lawrence Dominic McCarthy became an orphan as a very young child. At 13 years of age, he ended his education to work full-time on a farm. A few years later, he moved to Perth and became a contractor sawmiller. His work cost him three fingers on his left hand.

At first rejected due to his injuries, McCarthy was finally accepted into the ranks of the Australian Imperial Force in 1914, after proving that he had won numerous shooting competitions. He was made a private in the newly formed Blackboy Hill Camp. At the end of the year, his 16th Battalion embarked on a journey to Gallipoli.

Lawrence D. McCarthy. Source
Lawrence D. McCarthy. Source

He was fighting on the peninsula, until an illness forced him to evacuate in September 1915. Three months later, he was among the last to join the battalion on a new mission to the Western Front. In June 1916, the 16th Battalion arrived in France. During the following year, McCarthy’s abilities earned him the promotion to lieutenant as well as the French Croix de Guerre medal.

After helping to train the troops, he got back on the front just in time to join the Hundred Days Offensive against the German forces. On 23 August 1918, two weeks into the offensive, he was commanding D Company of the 16th Battalion, near Madam Wood in France.

His unit attained its position, but he noticed that his comrades from another unit could not break through the German defense. That was the moment McCarthy’s true abilities and valor came into full light. Accompanied by another comrade from his battalion, he stormed right across the open ground onto the German machine-gun posts, destroying three of them with bullets and grenades.

After his mate got wounded, he decided to continue on his own. Along the way, he would pick up German grenades and throw them back at them. At one point he reached another enemy stronghold where he shot two officers and bombed it so hard that at one point a blood-stained white cloth started waving in the wind.

An Australian battalion during the Hundred Days Offensive. Source
An Australian battalion during the Hundred Days Offensive. Source

During his blitzkrieg, he had killed 22 German soldiers, taken 50 POWs and captured three machine-gun posts along almost half a kilometer of the German front. Not believing their own eyes, his comrades could see from afar that the German prisoners gathered around lieutenant McCarthy… patting him on his back. They were equally shocked that this chubby man with seven fingers had managed to pull off such a strong game. They didn’t stand a chance.

Ten days after the war, McCarthy has been evacuated once again due to illness. While recovering, he was told that he would be awarded the highest honor of all for his action – the Victoria Cross. On 12 July 1919, King George V honored him in a ceremony at the Buckingham Palace. A discreet hero, he believed that there was ‘a VC in everybody if given a chance’.

Sam Dickson

Sam Dickson is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News