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Billy McFadzean at the Battle of the Somme

History Heroes: World War One hero, Billy McFadzean was a genuine hero.He sacrificed his life for his fellow soldiers on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He died before the fighting had even started. Billy McFadzean was a 20 year old rifleman in the 14th battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles in the British Army. He was a strapping, 6′ tall rugby playing lad, who found himself in the trenches as a bomber.

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WW1 Hero, Billy McFadzean at the Battle of the Somme

Billy’s job was to go ‘over the top’ of the trenches, carrying buckets of hand bombs to lob at the Germans. That morning, the 1st July 1916, the Allies prepared for battle with their trenches packed with soldiers. A box of bombs was opened for attack and slipped near Billy. He saw two of the bombs lose their safety pins. Without hesitation Billy threw himself on the box of bombs just before they exploded. Billy died but absorbed the bombs’ impact. Despite the crowded trenches, only one other soldier was injured by the explosion as a result of Billy’s bravery and sacrifice. Unsurprisingly Billy was awarded the Victoria Cross for ‘most conspicuous bravery’. Before Billy died, he had written home to his family about his part in the war, “I hope to play the game and if I don’t add much lustre to it, I certainly will not tarnish it.’ A  heartbreakingly, deeply fulfilled wish.

The day that Billy died, the 1st July 1916, was the first day of the Battle of the Somme. That day became the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. Over 19,000 British soldiers died that day – let alone soldiers from the French and German armies too. At least one man died every second. By the end of the Battle of the Somme, 141 days later, over one million soldiers from British, French and German armies had been wounded or killed.

Billy McFadzean is remembered at the Thiepval Memorial along with thousands of other soldiers. Thiepval is near to where the battle took place. It was designed by another character from History Heroes: World War One card game – Edwin Lutyens. Thiepval is the largest Commonwealth Memorial in the world dedicated to the Missing. The Battle of the Somme spawned a lot of ‘firsts’: the biggest memorial; the most British soldiers killed in one day…and poor Billy McFadzean was one of the first to die that day.

You can read more about the Battle of the Somme and why it went so wrong on the BBC’s website. Learn more about Billy McFadzean on this website too and about how he won his Victoria Cross.


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