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1804 Private John Carroll VC: St Yves, Belgium (Battle of Messines) 7-11 June 1917.

Twenty years ago I examined the evidence regarding the location of the hamlet where Private John Carroll, 33rd (NSW) Battalion was awarded the Victoria Cross. I concluded that the hamlet was not in France as many references frequently cite but well inside Belgium. Recently I returned to the location question to double check my conclusion but more particularly to see if I could determine how the error occurred in the first place. In doing the research I examined the various published biographical sketches of John Carroll and was surprised to find that so called facts in most of these biographies had never be critically examined.

Jack Carroll is almost a stereotypical hero, a courageous Australian in both war and peace who loved to drink and swap yarns with his mates. Today I want to look at how official records got both the name of the hamlet where he fought and the country where he fought incorrect. I also will examine some other questions. Why was Carroll transferred from a Western Australian unit to a New South Wales unit? Why was he transferred to London in July 1918 and sent home to Australia three month before the armistice? In particular I examine the claim that Carroll missed three investitures and had to be sent for on the fourth occasion.

John Carroll, who preferred to be called 'Jack' was born at Brisbane, Queensland on 16 August 1891 to his Irish born parents John and Catherine Carroll. At the age of 2 his family moved to Western Australia and at the outbreak of war he was living at Karrawang, while working as a labourer in the nearby goldfield town of Kalgoorlie. When he enlisted in the AIF on 27 April 1916 he stated his age was 23 years and 8 months, understating his age by one year. Carroll joined the 2nd reinforcements of the WA 44th Battalion.

The 44th Battalion including its 1st reinforcements embarked on 6 June 1916 from Fremantle aboard A29 (HMAT Suevic). The 2nd reinforcements of 2 officers and 151 men including Carroll sailed from Fremantle on 9 August 1916 aboard A28 (HMAT Miltiades). Carroll quickly came to attention while at sea for all the wrong reasons by missing the 5 pm roll call on 29 August. He was charged with being absent without leave on 29/30 August and received 7 days detention and 9 days forfeiture of pay.

On 1 October 1916, having reached England, Carroll proceeded to the 11th Training Battalion and then the 3rd Division Amalgamated Training Battalion. On 11 November Carroll was ordered to join the 44th Battalion located at Larkhill Camp on the Salisbury Plain. However as the 3rd Australian Division trained in England, the four Australian Divisions in France were engaged in heavy fighting. Some reinforcements for the divisions in France were drawn from the 3rd Division which was brought up to strength in mid November as it prepared for its move to France. About half the 150 men of the 2nd reinforcements of the 44th Battalion were transferred to other 3rd Division units. While it was slightly unusual for soldiers from one state to be transferred to a battalion from another state it was in this environment that many of the 2nd reinforcements of the 44th Western Australians including Carroll were transferred on 14 November to the 33rd Battalion one of the four battalions of the all New South Wales 9th Brigade.

The 33rd Battalion left Southampton for France on 21 November and was soon serving in the 'quite' Armentieres sector just south of the French-Belgium border. Five months later the 3rd Australian Division moved north across the Lys River into Belgium. Carroll came to attention again at Regina camp on 3 May 1917 when he failed to appear at the 2 pm and 9.45 pm roll calls. He received 2 days Field Punishment No.2 and was also fined the cost of the replacement of a small box respirator he had lost.

The 3rd Australian Division was on the extreme right of the British line at Messines. The 33rd Battalion was on the southern flank that was north of the Lys River. The river was the international boundary and the 33rd Battalion lines were at all times in Belgium. To have entered France required crossing the Lys River and operating well outside the battalion area of operations. The 33rd's task at Messines was the capture of three successive objectives defended by Bavarian troops. The artillery barrage supported the Australian advance but when a machine-gun came into action Carroll bayoneted four of the enemy and captured the gun. The 33rd Battalion was in the line until 11 June during which time Carroll's ceaseless activity, both in the attack and in the mopping up and consolidation phase was recognised with a recommendation for Victoria Cross.

The Victoria Cross recommendation was approved and the award was promulgated in The London Gazette on 2 August 1917. The published citation did not include unit, location and the date of the action:
 1804 Private John Carroll
 Australian Infantry

 For most conspicuous bravery. During an attack, immediately the
 barrage lifted, Private John Carroll rushed the enemy's trench
 and bayoneted four of the enemy. He then noticed a comrade in
 difficulties, and at once proceeded to his comrade's assistance and
 killed one of the enemy. He continued working ahead with great
 determination until he came across a machine-gun and team of four
 men in a shell-hole. Single-handed he attacked the entire team,
 killing three of the men and capturing the gun. Later
 on two of his comrades were buried by a shell, and, in spite of
 very heavy shelling and machine-gun fire, he managed to extricate
 them. During the ninety-six hours the battalion was in the line
 Private Carroll displayed most wonderful courage and fearlessness.
 His magnificent example of gallantry and devotion to duty inspired
 all ranks in his battalion.


VC, DSO and DCM citations until early 1916 were published with unit, location and date of action details. From then until the armistice details were omitted for security reasons. The missing details for VC awards gazetted between early 1916 and the armistice were published in The London Gazette on Monday 31 March 1919. The details for Carroll published in 1919 were 33rd Battalion, St Ives, France, 7/12 June 1917. Of the four pieces of information battalion, place, country and date of action only the battalion is correct. St Ives would seem to be a typographical error for St Yves. The War Office List of Recipients of the Victoria Cross published in January 1953 correctly spells the hamlet as St Yves. British reference books such as Sir John Smyth VC's The Story of the Victoria Cross in 1963, the three editions of The Register of the Victoria Cross and more recently David Harvey's outstanding Monuments of Courage all correctly spell St Yves.

As well as the Australian Official history, confirmation that St Yves is the correct spelling comes from Routine Orders No. 347 of 5 August 1917 by Lt-Col L J Morshead, the 33rd Battalion's commander who would win fame in 1941 as commander of the 9th Australian Division in defence of Tobruk:
 No. 1804 Private John Carroll
 33rd Battalion AIF

 At St Yves during the offensive on 7/12th June 1917, this soldier
 showed most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.

 On June 7th, Private John Carroll acted as a mopper-up. Immediately
 the barrage lifted, he rushed the enemy's trench and bayoneted four
 Germans. He then noticed a comrade in difficulties with one of the
 enemy; he at once proceeded to his comrade's assistance and killed
 the German. He continued working ahead with great determination and
 came across a machine-gun and team of four men in a shell-hole but
 single-handed he attacked the entire team, killing them all and
 capturing the gun.

 Later on two of his comrades were buried by a shell, and, in spite
 of very heavy shelling and machinegun fire, he extricate them.
 During the ninety-six hours the battalion was in the line Private
 Carroll displayed most wonderful courage and fearlessness. Each
 night he went out wiring in front of his new line and did excellent
 work. On two occasions he brought wounded men back to our line.

 His magnificent example inspired the whole battalion.


Colonel Morshead sent a copy of the citation to Carroll's mother who provided the correspondence to The Western Argus of Kalgoorlie, which published the citation with full details on 30 October 1917 at page 10. However both the 1963 and 1986 editions of They dared mightily missed the spelling correction and continued to use the incorrect St Ives spelling.

While St Yves is correctly spelt in Routine Orders it should be noted that the country is not stated in the citation. There is no evidence to suggest that Belgium was ever stated in the recommendation and it is most probable that whoever was tasked with preparing the citation details for the 1919 gazette leapt to the wrong conclusion that since St Yves was a French sounding name then obviously it must be in France. Then and now St Yves was a small hamlet with a few houses and has never been a household name. Australian references state that the award was for the Battle of Messines and since 1979 have indicated that the location of the action was in Belgium. A summary of location and date details for Carroll's VC in Australian references by year of publication is as follows:
1963 The dared mightily St Ives, France 7-10 June 1917
 (Battle of Messines Ridge)
1979 Australian Dictionary
 of Biography Messines Ridge, Belgium 7-10 June 1917
1986 The dared mightily St Ives, Belgium 7-10 June 1917
 (Battle of Messines Ridge)
1992 Tales of valour Messines, Belgium 7-10 June 1917


Carroll's is not the only soldier wrongly credited to France instead of Belgium. L-Cpl R.E. Elcock of the 11th Battalion Royal Scots and Corporal L. Andrew of the New Zealand 2nd Battalion, Wellington Regiment are similarly listed as France instead of Belgium. As well as these three awards where the country is listed in error there would seem to be many more discrepancies when it comes to the date of the VC action. However, unlike the country errors, recent published works nominate the dates for entries without dates or correct dates where the official records are obviously incorrect.

Five 1914-1918 air aces received the VC for flying service in France without any period specified in either their citation or in the 1919 gazette. The 1953 War Office List has no dates for Ball, Beauchamp-Proctor, Bishop, Mannock or McCudden but most VC reference works include dates. The official dates for 2nd Lt R P Hallowes of the 4th Battalion Middlesex Regt, Lt J E Tait of the 78th Canadian Battalion and Pte A H Buckley, 54th Australian Battalion include the day after these men were killed. It the case of Buckley he was killed on the morning of 1 September but official records state the VC action was 1/2 September 1918. In other words the date has different meaning; sometimes it is the date of the VC action whereas in other cases it is the date of the battle.

The citation for Carroll states that the 33rd Battalion was in the line for 96 hours which Lionel Wigmore in the 1963 edition of They dared mightily calculated as the period 7-10 June 1917. Australian authors since 1963 have supported that conclusion. The citation in the 33rd Battalion's Routine Orders uses the phrase 'during the offensive on 7/12th June 1917' which suggests a description of the battle rather than the period that the 33rd Battalion was in the line. The 33rd Battalion was in the line for the period 7-11 June, from the early morning on 7 June to the early morning on 11 June, the 96 hours mentioned in the citation. Therefore the period 7-11 June is more accurate., which is date used in 19 citations for one DSO, two MC, three DCM and 13 MM awards published in the 33rd Battalion Routine Orders 320 and 326 of 29 June and 7 July 1917.

Moving out of the line on 11 June the 33rd Battalion rested until 22 June when it replaced the 10th Battalion Cheshire Regiment of the 25th British Division. On 3 July the 59th Battalion of the 5th Australian Division relieved the 33rd Battalion that in turn relieved the 35th Battalion on 7 July. The 33rd Battalion was in support but provided working parties in forward areas. During this duty two days later on 9 July Carroll was wounded in action in the chest. Next day he was evacuated to the 14th General Hospital at Boulogne and then to No. 1 Convalescent Unit. While recovering Carroll was disciplined for being in a cafe during prohibited hours and fined a day's pay. Carroll rejoined his battalion on 19 August and was promoted Lance Corporal on 19 September.

On 12 October 1917, the 3rd Australian Division attacked Passchendaele Ridge as part of the 1st Battle of Passchendaele. The attack was repulsed with the 33rd Battalion suffering 284 casualties. Carroll was wounded sustaining a gunshot wound in the right buttock and was evacuated. On 20 October the Hospital Ship St Andrew moved Carroll to England and next day he was admitted to the Birmingham War Hospital at Northfield. While at No. 1 Convalescent Depot at Sutton Very, Wiltshire he was assaulted resulting in a simple fracture of the left fibula. On 11 March 1918 a Court of Inquiry found that he was criminally assaulted and that the injury was not due to his own act.

Twelve days later on Saturday, 23 March 1918, Carroll attended Buckingham Palace to receive the Victoria Cross from HM King George V. The ADB entry claims that Carroll missed three dates for his investiture with the VC and had to be sent for on the fourth occasion. The Perth evening broadsheet, The Daily News, wrote in 1927 that Carroll was:
 brought practically under arrest to receive the VC at the hands of
 the King. When a VC is to be invested he is given a choice of three
 dates since only one VC is put through at an investiture. Carroll
 missed all these dates, since only one VC is put through at an
 investiture. Carroll missed all three dates and he was 'sent for'
 by a friendly guard on a fourth occasion.


The reporter based his story on an interview with Carroll on 2 November 1927 who was in hospital after being severely injured in an industrial accident the previous day. It says much about his fortitude of Carroll who was in agony at the time that he could spin such a yarn. Carroll was one of four who received the VC at his investiture and being the only private he was the fourth to receive the award!

The Daily News goes on to claim that:
 A little later some of his pals told Carroll the King's Orders
 allowed a VC recipient to turn out the guard. Carroll was skeptical
 till they showed him chapter and verse. Soon after he was passing
 Buckingham Palace with his friends when he was reminded of his
 right. 'Well what the us of winning the VC if you don't make use of
 the privilege' said Carroll. 'Watch me turn the blighters out. And
 he did to the annoyance of the Sergeant of the guard. "I'll turn em
 out again' said Carroll highly delighted and he did it again and
 again til be got tied of the amusement.


A VC recipient turning out the guard is variation of the theme of 'saluting VC recipients' and 'VC recipients taking the parade' These are stories without any foundation in Army Regulations that are often heard in soldier's messes and have entered VC folklore! The Daily News also said that Carroll rarely says anything but 'yes' or 'no' and this earned his the sobriquet 'Referendum Carroll'. The yarns he spun the reporter make this last claim the most unlikely of all.

On 19 June Carroll embarked from Folkestone, Kent for the Australian Infantry Base Depot (A1BD) at Le Harve. From the AIBD he rejoined the 33rd Battalion on 27 June but one month later was transferred to AIF Headquarters in England. Carroll disembarked at Folkestone on 1 August with orders to report to the Administrative Headquarters London. On 24 August he returned to Australia per D21 (HMAT Medic).

Lionel Wigmore in the 1963 edition of They dared mightily wrote that '[i]n July 1918 Carroll was transferred to AIF Headquarters, London. He returned to Australia in August for discharge ..." Gerald Gliddon uses almost the same words in Arras and Messines 1917 '[i]n July 1918 he was transferred to AIF Headquarters in London and he returned to Australia for discharge in August 1918'. The ADB entry is similar. Major General Maitland in Tales of Valour added some details writing that on 28 July 1918 Carroll transferred to AIF Headquarters in London and returned to Western Australia aboard the troop transport Medic. Although the four accounts are mostly in agreement none of the accounts question why the transfer to London was made in July and why less than four weeks later Carroll returned to Australia for discharge three months before the armistice.

The Australian Prime Minister William Morris Hughes attended the Imperial War Cabinet and the Imperial War Conference between June and August 1918. With the Australian people twice rejecting conscription at referenda in 1916 and in 1917, the AIF remained an all-volunteer force throughout the war. While in England, Hughes arranged for furlough for VC recipients to help recruiting in Australia. It was to support recruiting in Australia that Carroll was granted leave to return to Australia.

By 28 July 1918, when Carroll was ordered to London, 38 of the 63 VC awards to the AIF had been gazetted. Ten of the awards were posthumous and Captain Tubb who was awarded the VC at Lone Pine on Gallipoli had been killed in action in Belgium on 20 September 1917. Seven of the surviving 27 recipients returned to Australia between September 1915 and April 1918 mostly because of wounds. In the five weeks between 16 August and 23 September 1918 Carroll was one of 15 Australian VC recipients who returned to Australia for furlough and to help recruiting for the AIF.

Carroll was one of ten Australian VC recipients who embarked on 24 August aboard HMAT Medic. Group photos mark both the departure from England and the arrival in Australia. The photograph after the ship had arrived in port at Melbourne included all 10 VC recipients that had been aboard HMAT Medic, John Carroll (33rd Bn); John James Dwyer (4th MG Co); Reginald Inwood (10th Bn); Jorgan Jensen (50th Bn); Thomas Kenny (2nd Bn); Leonard Keysor (1st Bn); Stanley McDougall (47th Bn); Walter Peeler (3rd Pioneer Bn); William Ruthven, (22nd Bn); William Symons (7th Bn); and John Whittle (12th Bn).

Missing from the Horseferry Road photo taken on 21 August was Dwyer but included was Clifford Sadlier (51st Bn) and Percy Storkey (19th Bn) who did not return to Australia on HMAT Medic. Storkey did not leave England for a further month but Sadlier left England on the same day as HMAT Medic but returned directly to Western Australia. It is reasonable to conclude that Carroll could have joined Sadlier but opted for a side trip to Melbourne, which was the capital of Australia until 1927 when the capital moved to the newly built city of Canberra.

What has been written previously about Carroll's return to Australia has been either inaccurate or bland when it was really a triumphal return.

Carroll was demobilized on 1 January 1919 and resumed work as a guard on the Kurrawang line. However fifteen months later he was back in Melbourne as one of 14 VC recipients mounted on white horses who formed a Guard of Honour for Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Daniel Mannix who led 10,000 ex-servicemen and women in the 1920 St Patrick's march. On 23 April 1923 at the Catholic Cathedral, Perth Carroll married Mary Brown. Carroll was one of 23 VC recipients who attended the Anzac Commemoration Service in the presence of HRH The Duke of York (the future King George VI) at the Exhibition Building, Melbourne on Anzac Day, 25 April 1927 and also took part in the march past.

Six months later on 1 November 1927, Carroll while working as a railway truck examiner at Hoffman's timber mill at Yarloop, attempted to jump on the footplate of a railway engine but slipped with his foot going under the wheel and being almost severed. He was rushed by train to hospital in Perth but his foot was amputated. Next day a reporter from The Daily News, visited Carroll in hospital and described him as a strong big looking fellow, about 35 years of age, whose face twisted at times with agony yet he deliberately refused to be downhearted. The reporter quotes Carroll:
 What's the good of moaning and crying over spilt milk? They cut the
 old foot off this morning just above the ankle and moaning about it
 wont put it back. It could have been worse--I. might have lost em
 both. Anyhow in a month's time I suppose I'll be able to 'stop' a
 pot of Swan Bitter with the best of em.


In 1929 distance barred Australian resident VC recipients from attending the VC Dinner in London hosted by the Prince of Wales on the eve of Armistice Day. However State Governors hosted receptions in each capital city and Carroll with Hugo Throssell (10th Light Horse), Sadlier and James Woods (48th Bn) attended the lunch at Government House in Perth, Western Australia on Armistice Day. In 1938 Carroll attended the Sydney Anzac Day Reunion organised by the United Licensed Victuallers Association but declined the offer to attend the opening of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra 1941 and the opening of VC Corner at the Australian War Memorial in 1964. However, Carroll was part of the Australian contingent that went to London in 1956 for the VC Centenary celebrations.

After London Carroll retired at Bedford, a Perth suburb. On 4 October 1971, he died at the Repatriation General Hospital in Perth and was buried with full military honours in Karrakatta cemetery in Perth. His wife had predeceased him and they had no children. His VC and medals were bequeathed to the Kalgoorlie Branch of the Returned Services League. Because of security and insurance considerations a copy VC was displayed in the Ex-Servicemen's Club. In October 1989 George Hayhow the president of the Kalgoorlie RSL with the support of his committee presented Carroll's medals to the Australian War Memorial so that the original medals could be displayed in the memorial's Hall of Valour.

Carroll was casual and happy-go-lucky by nature. He obviously liked his 'Swan Bitter' and it probably was the reason for his discipline issues during service. The suggestion that he missed three investitures at Buckingham Palace is a tall story. His return to Australia in late 1918 was part of the Australian Prime Minister's plan to send VC recipients home on furlough to help recruiting for the all volunteer AIF. Australia can now correct the spelling of St Yves, which is in Belgium. However, the original recommendation did not specify in which country St Yves was located and the error that it was in France probably belongs to the compiler of the citation details for the 1919 gazette who misspelt St Yves.
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Article Details
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Author:Staunton, Anthony
Publication:Sabretache
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:4EUBL
Date:Mar 1, 2005
Words:3933
Previous Article:The evolution of an AIF battalion: the 7th Battalion at the Battles of Krithia (8 May 1915) and Lihons (10 August 1918).
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