12 October 2017

Casualties of Passchendaele: Sergeant Lewis McGee

Thursday 12 October marks 100 years since Sergeant Lewis McGee died during the Third Battle of Ypres. Here is more about the man who was awarded the Victoria Cross after leading his platoon with “great dash and bravery, though strongly opposed, and under heavy shell fire”.

 

Sergeant Lewis McGee, VC

40th Battalion, Australian Infantry

Died: 12 October 1917

Aged: 29

Lewis McGee was the youngest of 11 children of John and Mary McGee. He was born on 13 May 1888 in Campbell Town, Tasmania, Australia. He worked for the Tasmanian Department of Railways and was a keen cyclist. On 15 November 1914, he married Eileen Rose Bailey and they had a daughter, Nada, born in 1915.

On 1 March 1916, Lewis enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). He was posted to the 40th Battalion of the AIF and, after training in Britain on Salisbury Plain, the battalion was deployed to the Western Front with the 3rd Australian Division. Lewis was a natural soldier and leader and was promoted to Sergeant. The division’s first major action was during the Battle of Messines Ridge in June 1917.

On 4 October 1917, the 3rd Australian Division went into action again, during the Battle of Broodseinde. It was during the heavy fighting on the shell-blasted slopes of the Broodseinde Ridge that Lewis would perform the actions for which he would be awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery in the British Army.  

An extract from The London Gazette, dated 23 November 1917, states:

"For most conspicuous bravery when, in the advance to the final objective, Serjt. McGee led his platoon with great dash and bravery, though strongly opposed, and under heavy shell fire. His platoon was suffering severely and the advance of the Company was stopped by machine gun fire from a ' Pill-box ' post. Single-handed Serjt. McGee rushed the post armed only with a revolver. He shot some of the crew and captured the rest, and thus enabled the advance to proceed. He re-organised the remnants of his platoon and was foremost in the remainder of the advance, and during consolidation of the position he did splendid work. This Non-commissioned Officer's coolness and bravery were conspicuous and contributed largely to the success of the Company's operations…”

The 3rd Division successfully took all of its objectives on 4 October. The German defences in the Ypres Salient were strengthened by hundreds of concrete blockhouses, like the one captured by Lewis. Three of these blockhouses taken by the 3rd Division on 4 October can still be seen today in CWGC Tyne Cot Cemetery. An inscription on the central bunker, on which the Cross of Sacrifice was built, records the efforts of the 3rd Division in the Battle of Broodseinde.

Lewis died before he was awarded the Victoria Cross. On 12 October he was killed in action during the First Battle of Passchendaele. After the war he was buried in CWGC Tyne Cot Cemetery. His headstone bears an engraving of the Victoria Cross.