b. 03/05/1888 Murton, County Durham. d. 10/08/1949 Murton, County Durham.
William McNally (1894-1976) was born at 12 Bude Square, Murton, near Seaham, County Durham on 16th December 1894, the son of a local miner. He was educated at Murton Colliery School from the ages of 4 to 14, when he followed his father into the pit at Murton Colliery. Initially he was employed as a pit pony driver, as his father had been, and worked six shifts a week. The colliery was owned by Seaham Coal Company.
He enlisted from the Colliery on 3rd September 1914 and was attested at Havelock House, Sunderland. After initial training he joined the 8th (S) Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment at Halton Park Camp, Buckinghamshire. His colleagues were mainly from the North East. They spent a year in training before embarking for France just before the Battle of Loos. The Battalion, 69th Brigade (23rd Division), arrived in Boulogne on 26th August 1915 and moved by cattle trucks to their base town of St Eloi. He first saw action at Loos, which began on 25th September. He was only in France for three weeks before returning to England on 1st October, remaining there until 11th December. During this time, he had some leave, although the main reason he was home was the first of three leg wounds he would get in the Great War.
He returned to France and received his first medal, the MM, when taking part in the assault against Contalmaison on 10th July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. He went to the assistance of a wounded officer shot in the thigh; administered first aid and later arranged for the officer to be pulled in by fastening his legs with rope and dragging him back as far as the barbed wire. Sadly, despite all his efforts, the officer died. The recommendation for the MM came 10 days later. On the same day as this action, Donald Simpson Bell would be awarded a posthumous VC.
Between August 1916 and January 1917 McNally was back in England for a second time, presumably as a result of his second leg wound. He returned on 10th January for six months before returning to England in mid-June. He had possibly been wounded in the legs again. He remained at home for 8 weeks, including 10 days’ leave, before returning to France for a fourth time on 8th September where he remained before travelling to the Italian Front, arriving there on 8th November 1917. He would spend the rest of the war there.
McNally was awarded a Bar to his MM for his actions near Passchendaele just before leaving for Italy, when he rescued several comrades under heavy shell fire. McNally would be awarded the VC for actions in the latter stages of the war at the Piave River, Italy.
On 27th October 1918 at Piave River, Italy, when his company was most seriously hindered by machine-gun fire, Sergeant McNally, regardless of personal safety, rushed the machine-gun post single-handed, killing the team and capturing the gun. Later, at Vazzola on 29 October the sergeant crept up to the rear of an enemy post, put the garrison to flight and captured the machine-gun. On the same day, when holding a newly-captured ditch, he was strongly counter-attacked from both flanks, but coolly controlling the fire of his party, he frustrated that attack, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy.
Eleven months after the action at Piave River, McNally returned to England and was demobilised in Ripon. He was still suffering from a third leg wound and had a bullet lodged in it. He returned home to Durham, and was met at Murton station by a welcoming crowd, and the local pit was closed for the day in his honour. Presentations were made to him on behalf of the villagers and he was accompanied by his pregnant wife whom he had recently married in July 1919, a short time before his VC investiture on the 17th. The couple would go on to have six children.
McNally returned to work in the pit and became a member of the Miners’ Lodge Committee. He remained working there until about 1944 when he turned 50. He then had an office job for 12 years in a timber yard, supervising the making of pit props, before finally retiring in July 1958.
McNally had attended the 1920 VC Garden Party at Buckingham Palace and the ceremony for the unveiling of the Cenotaph later that year. He also attended the VC Dinner the House of Lords in November 1929, and in September 1933 took part in a Drumhead Service, with Henry Tandey VC, and was occasionally a guest of honour at British Legion dinners. After World War II, he attended the VE Parade on 8th June 1946 and the dinner at The Dorchester in the evening, and the VC Centenary Celebrations at Hyde Park on 26th June 1956.
After his retirement he spent 16 years in his home village, taking an active role in community affairs, and was a regular attender of Green Howards Assocation reunions. He also attended the first two VC/GC Association Dinners at the Café Royal in 1958 and 1960, and one in 1962. In 1969 he was presented with a gold badge to celebrate 50 years of meritorious service with the Green Howards at a dinner in York. Bill McNally VC died at his home, 12 Bude Square, on 5th January 1976, and his funeral with full military honours was four days later at Holy Trinity Church, Murton. He was then cremated at Tyne & Wear Crematorium, Sunderland, and his ashes scattered in the Garden of Remembrance.
His medals including the VC, MM and Bar, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, King George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 were held for a number of years by the Green Howards’ Museum in Richmond, Yorkshire, loaned by the family. In 2006, the medals were sold in a private sale to Michael Ashcroft and are now in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: TYNE & WEAR CREMATORIUM, SUNDERLAND. ASHES SCATTERED.
William McNally's medals including VC on display at Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (Aug 2014).
Murton War Memorial
McNally VC (right) pictured with James Hall
Picture of his medals from Lord Ashcroft Collection website
McNally's miniature medals held by the Green Howards Museum
The above three images of the VC stone unveiling in Murton, County Durham courtesy of Andrew Swan