Sgt Lewis McGee, V.C., 1888-1917

In Memoriam

Lewis McGee V.C.

This page is dedicated to the memory of my relative, Lewis McGee, awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery and leadership in the battle of Broodseinde 4 October 1917, killed in action 12 October 1917 at Passchendaele, Belgium.

   Hamburg Farm pillbox from Tyne Cot
  Lewis McGee's Pillbox at Hamburg Farm
(Photos: Trish Downes May 2000)


No.456, Sergeant Lewis McGee.
40th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force.

For most conspicuous bravery in action East of Ypres on October 4th 1917.

In the advance to the final objective, Sergeant McGee led his platoon with great dash and bravery in spite of exceedingly heavy enemy opposition and shell fire.

His platoon was suffering heavily and the advance of the Company was stopped by Machine Gun fire from a concrete "Pill-box". Single handed Sergeant McGee rushed the position armed only with a revolver. He shot some of the crew and captured the rest, and thus enabled the advance to proceed. He reorganised the remnants of his Platoon and was foremost in the remainder of the advance, and during consolidation of the position did splendid work.

This non-commissioned officer's coolness and bravery were conspicuous and contributed largely to the success of the Company's operations.

Sergeant McGee was subsequently killed in action on the 12th instant.

Hamburg Farm pillbox Hamburg Farm pillbox
The pillbox from the (open) German side.
This structure was a German command post,
with machine guns on the roof.
Inside the pillbox. Note the hole in the roof,
where a periscope was used for observation.
The pillbox was wired for telephone.

Lewis McGee was born in Ross, Tasmania on 13 May 1888, 11th and youngest child of John and Mary (nee Green) McGee. A fourth-generation Australian, he is descended from James McGee, who arrived in 1830, and John Presnell, who arrived in 1821 and built the White Hart Inn half-way between Hobart and Launceston on the Midlands Highway.

In real life, Lewis was an engine driver for the Tasmanian Department of Railways, and lived at Avoca, near Campbelltown, with his wife and daughter. He enlisted on 1 March 1916 at the age of 27, and served with Tasmania's 40th Battalion in France and Belgium from November 1916, including in the battle of Messines in June 1917. C E W Bean, the Official Historian, noted his valour in his diary and noted he was recommended for VC and commission.

Tyne Cot Cross of Sacrifice
40th Battalion deeds 4 Oct 1917
The central Cross of Sacrifice, Tyne Cot cemetery,
is on top of the main headquarters blockhouse
captured by the Australians 4 Oct 1917

Sergeant McGee, acting Company Sergeant Major, was killed in action during the second battle of Passchendaele, at Augustus Wood on the morning of the 12th October 1917. He was 29 years old. He is buried at Tyne Cot cemetery nearby.

Tyne Cot from Augustus Wood Hamburg Farm from Augustus Wood
Tyne Cot cemetery from Augustus Wood,
where Lewis was killed on 12 October 1917
Hamburg Farm from Augustus Wood.
Lewis fought, died and is buried within
500 square metres, in Flanders Fields.

Over 6,000 Australians were killed in battle in October 1917.

Lest we forget.

Lewis and family, 1916
(Photo: Patricia Rubenach)

Lewis McGee's Death Date

In the photograph below left, provided by Anthony Staunton, Lewis' headstone in Tyne Cot cemetery shows his death date incorrectly as 13th October 1917. This mistake was repeated in several places, including databases kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in London and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. This was despite the evidence of his Citation, of the official history by C E W Bean, and of the 40th Battalion War Diary, all of which record his death date as 12 October 1917.

At my request, Anthony, a scholar of Australian Victorian Cross awards, researched the anomaly and found the error originated in Sergeant McGee's Army Record, held by the National Archives of Australia. Army Form B2090A, filed at ANZAC Section GHQ on 28 November 1917, reported that Sergeant McGee had been killed in action on 13th October and cited a report by the 40th Battalion CO, which appears not to have survived. From there, as in many bureaucratic processes, the error has propagated throughout his Army record and into the databases.

Anthony submitted his research to the Office of Australian War Graves and ultimately to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. As a result of his efforts, the CWGC database is now correct, and the CWGC has erected a completely new headstone on the grave at Tyne Cot cemetery. The photograph on the right, of the new headstone, was very kindly taken and sent to me by Danny Dedobbelaere, of Belgium.

Old Gravestone New Gravestone

I provided Anthony's research to the Australian War Memorial, and the AWM database has now been amended. So an old wrong has been righted.

Lewis' first grave
Lewis' first grave, in Flanders mud, showing
clearly his death date of 12 Oct 1917.

(From display at AWM)
Tyne Cot cemetery Hamburg and Tyne Cot
Tyne Cot cemetery with Hamburg Farm in the background.
View map
Aerial view of Beecham Farm (lower left),
Hamburg Farm (centre), Tyne Cot (lower right) and
Augustus Wood (upper right) April 2001

(Photo courtesy Danny Dedobbelaere)

Tasmania remembers

In 1984 Sergeant McGee's medals, death plaque and photograph were purchased at auction by the Tasmanian State Government. They are held in the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, just 76 km from Ross where Lewis was born.

McGee's Victoria Cross McGee's Victoria Cross (reverse) Lewis' death plaque

The people of Tasmania have commemorated Lewis' memory in several ways. At Avoca, where he lived before he entered the Army, there is an obelisk to his memory in the local park.

Avoca park

Avoca park obelisk

McGee Soldiers Club Anglesea Barracks

While in Anglesea Army Barracks, Hobart, the Soldiers' Club has been named in his memory.

For more photos, see the AWM photograph database.

Map and extract from The Fortieth: A Record of the 40th Battalion, A.I.F. by F.C. Green

© 2001 Patricia Downes

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