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William McNally (1894-1976)

Murton’s Victoria Cross hero

William McNally was born in Murton, near Seaham, County Durham, in December 1894, where his father worked as a coal miner. After leaving Murton Colliery School, William, aged just 14 years, went to work underground as a pit pony boy.

During the first months of the war, thousands of Durham miners joined the Army, and on 3 September 1914 William McNally enlisted in Sunderland in The Yorkshire Regiment – today better known as the Green Howards – and joined the 8th (Service) Battalion.

In September 1915, after months of training, the 8th Battalion was sent to France as part of the 23rd Infantry Division, and at Contalmaison in July 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, 13820 Private William McNally gained the first of his three gallantry awards – the Military Medal – when he dragged a seriously wounded officer to safety. Then in early November 1917, William McNally was awarded a bar to his Military Medal when he three-times rescued men wounded or buried by enemy shellfire at Passchendaele, near Ypres.

Later in November 1917, McNally’s battalion was sent from France to northern Italy, where the Italian Army was fighting a combined Austrian and German Army. There, between 27 and 29 October 1918, Sergeant William McNally won the Victoria Cross during the fighting at the River Piave, when “his innumerable acts of gallantry set a high example to his men, and his leading was beyond all praise”.

King George V presented Sergeant McNally with his VC at Buckingham Palace in July 1919.

During the First World War, William McNally was wounded three times, but this did not stop him returning to work in Murton colliery after he left the Army in February 1919, and he continued to work until he finally retired in 1958, aged 65 years, as a timber-yard foreman.

In June 1940, when Britain was once again at war, William McNally joined his Local Defence Volunteers in Murton as a Sergeant. Promoted to Lieutenant in 1941, William McNally served in both the 13th and 26th Battalions Durham Home Guard, until the Home Guard was disbanded in December 1945.

William McNally died in Murton in January 1976 and was cremated at Sunderland crematorium. In 1978 a stone memorial was unveiled to his memory on Murton village green.

Victoria Cross citation for 13820 Sergeant William McNally, 8th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, London Gazette, 14 December 1918. “For most conspicuous bravery and skilful leading during the operations on the 27th October, 1918, across the Piave, when his company was most seriously hindered in its advance by heavy machine-gun fire from the vicinity of some buildings on a flank. Utterly regardless of personal safety, he rushed the machine-gun post single handed, killing the team and capturing the gun. Later at Vazzola, on the 29th October, 1918, when his company, having crossed the Monticano River, came under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, Sjt. McNally immediately directed the fire of his platoon against the danger point, whilst he himself crept to the rear of the enemy position. Realising that a frontal attack would mean heavy losses, he, unaided, rushed the position, killing or putting to flight the garrison and capturing a machine gun. On the same day, when holding a newly captured ditch, he was strongly counter- attacked from both flanks. By his coolness and skill in controlling the fire of his party he frustrated the attack, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. Throughout the whole operations his innumerable acts of gallantry set a high example to his men, and his leading was beyond all praise.”

Where to look for more information about this person:
London Gazette, 14 December 1918:

The Yorkshire Regiment First World War Remembrance:

Lord Ashcroft’s Medal Collection:

Sunderland Echo, 4 August 2013:

Murton Heritage Society:

Wikipedia – William McNally:

Imperial War Museum, London:

Green Howards Museum, Richmond:

Durham Home Guard Enrolment Forms 1940-45: William McNally WO 409/27/91/74

Civil Parish: East Murton

Birth date: 16-Dec-1894

Death date: 5-Jan-1976

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: 12 Bude Square, Murton, County Durham.
2 Gray Avenue, Murton (Home Guard Enrolment Form, 1940)

Education: Murton Colliery School

Employment: Murton Colliery.

Family: Wife: Elizabeth McNally.

Military service:

Enlisted as 13820 Private on 3 September 1914 in the 8th (Service) Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards).
Wounded three times.
Demobilised as a Sergeant in February 1919.
Joined Local Defence Volunteers, June 1940.
Served as Sergeant in 13th Battalion Durham Home Guard, 1940-41. Promoted to Lieutenant 1941.
Served in 'C' Company (Murton), 26th Battalion Durham Home Guard, 1941-45.

Medal(s): William McNally’s Victoria Cross, Military Medal & Bar, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, Defence Medal, and George VI and Elizabeth II Coronation Medals are part of Lord Ashcroft’s collection and are displayed on rotation in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London.

Memorial(s): Memorial stone, Murton village green.

Gender: Male

Contributed by Durham County Record Office

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