Lance Corporal William Fahey MM

St Patrick’s Catholic Primary School Roll of Honour

Born: 1888 - Pakenham, Victoria

Enlisted: 22 January 1915 aged 26

Unit: 21st Battalion, B Company (SERN: 377)

Served: Egypt, Gallipoli & Western Front

Died: 2 April 1956 - Heidelberg, Victoria

 

Amongst the former students listed on the St Patrick’s Roll of Honour are five brothers: James, William, Thomas, Patrick, and Edward Fahey. They were sons of John and Margaret Fahey. Their father’s family, which was described as “highly respected by all who knew them”, had moved from Dandenong to Pakenham (1). The family property may have been located where the Lakeside Estate now is on the Old Princes Highway opposite Thewlis Road (1a). According to the Berwick Shire Rate books, the boys’ father John was a labourer who owned some property around Pakenham. He may also have done contracting work with his horse and dray for the Berwick Shire (2). The boys’ uncle Paul was also a landowner who had served for a period as Cranbourne Shire President. Tragically for the family, John Fahey died in 1895 aged just 49. For Margaret and her children, this must have been devastating, both emotionally and financially. In an era before the widow’s pension and child endowment, Margaret would have had to depend heavily on family and friends to make ends meet. Given their dates of birth, the Fahey brothers would have attended St Patrick’s in the 1890s and early 1900s. After completing school, the brothers scattered in search of work, eventually enlisting for service as far afield as Melbourne, Tallangatta in northern Victoria and Maitland and Liverpool in NSW. By WWI, Margaret (now re-married to a Mr Christopherson) was living in Carlton (3) 

William was the first of the Fahey brothers to enlist. Born at Pakenham in 1888, William was 26 years old when he enlisted in January 1915. At the time, he was working as a labourer around Tallangatta, near Wodonga in northern Victoria. After leaving Australia in May 1915, William was initially sent to Egypt. He then proceeded to Gallipoli in late August 1915 and served there until the Anzacs were evacuated in December 1915 (3a). William was subsequently returned to Egypt for a couple of months before being shipped to the Western Front. By this time, the fighting there had bogged down into a bloody war of attrition. Both sides had “dug in” with the trenches of the opposing armies often only a few metres apart.  According to his service record, William took part in a raid on the German trenches in June 1916 (4). Raids like this often involved hand-to-hand combat. During the Battle of the Somme, William took part in the Australian attack on the German positions at Mouquet Farm near Pozieres. Known to the soldiers as “Moo Cow Farm”, this was a heavily fortified German position on a strategically important ridge near Pozieres. Nine separate attacks by units of the 1st, 2nd and 4th Divisions AIF in August and September 1916 failed to capture and hold the position (4a) William was involved in one of these attacks in late August. A party including William was involved in a desperate fight with the Germans at “Point 54”. Having reached the German lines there, the Australians tried to throw grenades down into the dugouts, but soon found that the enemy “had succeeded in swarming out of one dugout, and was firing into the party from behind. Others were coming over the top of the bank, others again round some corner to the south-east. After firing into the thick of them, Jones gave the word to leap out and hold the craters near the Zigzag Trench. The Germans followed them into the open, kneeling to fire and throwing bombs, but were driven back” (4b). Somehow, William managed to survive that day, but was wounded. He and some comrades were subsequently awarded the Military Medal by King George V. William’s citation read “For most conspicuous gallantry in action at Mouquet Farm on 26 August 1916 in continuing to fire on the enemy after he had been wounded in both arms. The rifle was loaded by one wounded man whilst Private Fahey did the firing. He maintained his position until ordered to fall back to the rest of his Company” (5). William’s heroics at Mouquet Farm also earned him a brief mention in the official Australian war history written by the famous Charles Bean (6). William was hospitalised at Rouen, and returned to his unit in November 1916. William was later promoted to Lance Corporal on 1 February 1917, but days later was wounded in the chest and sent back to hospital in England. He returned to Australia in June 1918 and was discharged as medically unfit due to an abnormally fast heart beat [tachycardia] (7).

After the War, William lived in Carlton for a time and later in Coburg where he was listed on the electoral roll as being a textile worker. William married Margaret Marsden in 1926 and they had a daughter. Sadly, William became a widower in 1934 when his wife died. William himself died in 1956 (8). 

 

Sources:

(1) South Bourke & Mornington Journal 4/5/1898, p.2

(1a) PROV VPS 795 P0000 Unit 770 Item 1359

(2) South Bourke & Mornington Journal   30/8/1893, p. 3

(3) Pakenham Gazette 27/4/2016, p. 20

(3a) (4) & (7) NAA B2455 FAHEY WA 

(4a) https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/PL885

(4b) & (6) Bean (1941) p. 815

(5) Narre Warren & District Family History Group (2016), p. 41

(8) Narre Warren & District Family History Group (2016), p. 42

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