b. 09/10/1895 Lurgan, Northern Ireland. d. 01/07/1916 Thiepval, France.
William Frederick “Billy” McFadzean (1895-1916) was born at Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland on 9th October 1895. His father was William McFadzean JP who was a linen salesman. His mother was Annie nee Pedlow and they married in c 1895. The family also lived in Ormeau, County Down, and later in Belfast. Billy had four siblings: John Bowden, Robert James, Mary Gordon, and Henry Bowden.
Billy was educated at Mountpottinger Boy’s School from April 1904 to August 1908 and the Trade Preparatory School, Municipal Technical Institute, Belfast. He was apprenticed in the linen trade with Spence, Bryson & Co. He played as a junior for the Collegians Rugby Football Club. Billy was a member of 1st Battalion (Ballynafeigh and Newtownbreda Young Citizen Volunteers), East Belfast Regiment, Ulster Volunteer Force, known as the “Chocolate Soldiers”, because most men had a commercial background and came from reasonably well-off families.
He enlisted in 14th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles on 22nd September 1914 and joined C Company. He was bigger than the average recruit, standing at six feet tall. The Battalion trained at Finner Camp, County Donegal before moving to Randalstown Camp in County Antrim. The battalion moved to England for further training at Seaford, East Sussex and Liphook, Hampshire. Billy accompanied the battalion to France on 5th October 1915.
On 1st July 1916, near Thiepval Wood, France, while in a concentration trench and opening a box of bombs for distribution prior to an attack, the box slipped down into the trench, which was crowded with men, and two of the safety pins fell out. Private McFadzean, instantly realising the danger to his comrades, with heroic courage threw himself on the top of the Bombs. The bombs exploded blowing him to pieces, but only one other man was injured. He well knew his danger, being himself a bomber, but without a moment's hesitation he gave his life for his comrades.
His body sadly was not identified after the War, and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, The Somme. There was a possibility that he was buried in Connaught Cemetery, a few yards from where he died. As he never married, the VC was presented to his father by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 28th February 1917. When handing over the VC, the King said “Nothing finer has been done in this war for which I have given a Victoria Cross than the act committed by your son to save many lives in giving his own so heroically.”
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. His VC was donated by his brother and sister to the Royal Ulster Rifles Regimental Museum on 1st March 1980. It is held in the Regimental Museum in Belfast.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL ULSTER RIFLES MUSEUM, BELFAST, NI.
BURIAL PLACE: NO KNOWN GRAVE - ON THIEPVAL MEMORIAL, FRANCE. PIER 15, FACE A/B.
William McFadzean's medals on display at the Royal Ulster Rifles Museum, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
(Picture - Thomas Stewart).
Ulster Tower Memorial
East Belfast Mural (Picture courtesy of Paul Quinn)
War Illustrated, 23rd September 1916
Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin (Thomas Stewart)
Lurgan War Memorial (Thomas Stewart)
Lochnagar Crater (Thomas Stewart)