Victoria Cross hero to be honoured in home village for bravery in First World War

A former pitman who performed 'innumerable acts of gallantry' during the First World War is to be honoured in his home village 100 years on.

Friday, 19th October 2018, 11:29 am
Updated Friday, 19th October 2018, 12:03 pm
Victoria Cross hero William McNally.
Victoria Cross hero William McNally.

William McNally, from Murton, was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for his heroic deeds in northern Italy in October 1918.

Between October 27 and 29 that year, the brave young sergeant seized German machine gun posts single handed, rushed enemy positions and exhibited leadership “beyond all praise.”

A century later, a commemorative paving stone will be unveiled on Murton Village Green, with villagers, veterans, servicemen and women, dignitaries and members of McNally’s family coming together to pay tribute.

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The ceremony will take place at the Cenotaph at 11am on Saturday, October 27, and will be followed by a free exhibition about McNally at the Glebe Centre on Sunday, October 28, and Monday, October 29, from 10am to 4pm.

The commemorative stone is one of seven presented to Durham County Council to honour the county’s VC heroes.

Murton Parish Council have led and funded the project, with support from Murton Heritage Society, Murton Welfare Association and East Durham Area Action Partnership.

Tom Pinkney, chairman of Murton Parish Council, said: “Knowing Murton was the home of someone who won a distinction as high as the Victoria Cross is a source of great pride in our village.

“We are expecting members of McNally’s family to attend and I think this, along with the fact the ceremony is taking place so close to Remembrance Day, will make the day even more poignant.

“I would like to say a special thank you to Murton Heritage Society who have worked so hard preparing the exhibition and revealing more details about the life of this extraordinary man.”

Coun John Lethbridge, Chairman of Durham County Council, said: “It will be an honour to stand alongside the people of Murton and pay tribute to William McNally at a time when the First World War is at the forefront of all of our minds.

“This is the final VC memorial stone to be installed in County Durham, and it has been extremely moving to see communities across the county commemorate their heroes over the last four years.”

Born in Murton in 1894, McNally attended Murton Colliery School until he was 14, when he went to work underground as a pit pony boy.

In September 1914, he was one of thousands of Durham miners to join the Army, enlisting in the Yorkshire Regiment, now known as the Green Howards.

A year later, after intensive training, McNally and fellow members of the 8th battalion travelled to France as part of the 23rd Infantry Division.

At Contalmaison in July 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, 13820 Private 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, he was awarded a bar to his Military Medal after he three-times rescued men wounded or buried by enemy shellfire at Passchendaele, near Ypres.

But it was his actions in Italy in October 1918 that earned him the military’s highest accolade.

His VC citation, published in the London Gazette in December 1918, praised his “conspicuous bravery” adding: “Throughout the whole operations his innumerable acts of gallantry set a high example to his men, and his leading was beyond all praise.”

McNally received his VC from King George V in July 1919 and the following year, on Remembrance Day, he was included in the VC Guard of Honour for the interment of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.

Despite being wounded three times, McNally returned to work at Murton Colliery after the war.

He served in the Home Guard during the Second World War and finally retired in 1958 aged 65.

He died in Murton in January 1976 and, two years later, a stone memorial was unveiled on the village green, where the new VC stone will be installed.