William Francis James MCCANN CMG, DSO, OBE, MC and Bar, MID

Badge Number: 9, Sub Branch: Burnside
9

MCCANN, William Francis James

Service Number: 405
Enlisted: 24 August 1914, Morphettville, South Australia
Last Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Last Unit: 10th Infantry Battalion
Born: Glanville, South Australia, 19 April 1892
Home Town: Glanville, South Australia
Schooling: North Adelaide Public School and Adelaide High School
Occupation: Teacher, Farmer, Lawyer and RSL State President
Died: Natural causes (heart disease), Tusmore, South Australia, 14 December 1957, aged 65 years
Cemetery: North Road Cemetery, Nailsworth, S.A.
Memorials: Adelaide Grand Masonic Lodge WW1 Honour Board, Adelaide High School Honour Board, Adelaide University of Adelaide WW1 Honour Roll, North Adelaide Public School Roll of Honor, North Adelaide War Memorial WW1, Peterborough Public School Honour Board WW1, Peterborough War Memorial, South Australian Education Department Roll of Honour
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World War 1 Service

24 Aug 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 405, Morphettville, South Australia
20 Oct 1914: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 405, 10th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Ascanius, Adelaide
20 Oct 1914: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 405, 10th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
25 Apr 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Regimental Sergeant Major, SN 405, 10th Infantry Battalion, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
23 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, SN 405, 10th Infantry Battalion, Pozières
8 Apr 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, SN 405, 10th Infantry Battalion, German Withdrawal to Hindenburg Line and Outpost Villages
8 Aug 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Major, SN 405, 10th Infantry Battalion, "The Last Hundred Days"
11 Nov 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Lieutenant Colonel, SN 405, 10th Infantry Battalion
8 Sep 1919: Discharged AIF WW1

Distinguished Service Order - 10 August 1918 near Crepey Wood Lihons France

'For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty near Lihons on 10th August, 1918. After the attack had failed at Crepey Wood, he successfully captured the position with his company in face of very heavy fire; and, when the enemy in greatly superior numbers, counter attacked, he held them off, personally killing many of the enemy and exposing himself freely until reinforcements enabled him to drive off the enemy and re-establish his original line. His courage and fine leadership prevented an important position falling into the hands of the enemy.'

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Bar to the Military Cross - action at Mont de Merris 29 June 1918

‘For conspicuous gallantry and fine leadership during an attack. He led one of the attacking companies with great dash, and helped very materially in the success of the operation. Wherever the situation was most critical he was to be found directing and encouraging his men, and his fine example inspired all under his command.’

Awarded the Military Cross - Pozieres

‘For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led his company in the attack, bombing the enemy back, and in spite of heavy casualties, pressed forward until severely wounded by a bomb.’

This had been preceded by an earlier incident, described by Charles Bean thus

“McCann, recognizing that the enemy post must be seized, lined out in front of it in shell-holes, the ten or
twelve men who were with him. With bombs they thoroughly subdued the German bombers, and smashed
one machine gun – McCann’s success in this bold movement being partly due to his having with him two old
Gallipoli Sergeants (G D Beames and L C Wickham). When bombs began to run out, McCann passed the
word on to charge with the bayonet, and he was on the point of giving the word when he was hit in the head
by a machine gun bullet.”

Official History of Australian in the First World War:

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Biography

McCann, William Francis James (1892–1957) teacher, soldier lawyer and foundation member of the RSL

A biography of Bill McCann by H. J. Zwillenberg was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography (adb.anu.edu.au), Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

 

The material below is a blend of several sources including RSL records:

 

William ("Bill")  Francis James McCann , teacher, soldier lawyer and foundation member of the RSL was born on 19 April 1892 at Glanville, Adelaide, a son of John Francis McCann, engine driver, and his wife Eliza, née Francis.

Educated at North Adelaide Public School and Adelaide High School, he qualified in 1913 as a teacher with the Education Department and was appointed to Ethelton Public School; he later taught at Malvern and Glanville. He also taught at Peterborough where he is memorialised.

McCann enlisted as a private in the 10th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, on 24 August 1914 and, already a sergeant, embarked on the 20th October.  His two brothers also enlisted; Claude Cyril John McCANN (/explore/people/211525) enlisted in the 27th Battalion was commissioned and won a Military Cross.  Jack Stewart Sydney McCANN (/explore/people/52134) enlisted into the 43rd Battalion.  Jack was killed in action at the Battle of Le Hamel (/explore/campaigns/33) on 4th July 1918

By the time of the landing on 25 April 1915 Bill McCann was a company sergeant major.  He rendered exemplary service between 6 May and 28 June and was mentioned several times in unit routine orders. On 4 August 1915 he was commissioned in hte filed as a second lieutenant and was promoted lieutenant on 14 November.

McCann remained with the 10th Battalion when it split to form the 50th.  He deployed to France as the Battalion scouting, sniping and intelligence officer and was promoted captain on 16 April 1916.

He distinguished himself at Fleurbaix (near Fromelles) and then when the Battalion moved to the Somme, he played a leading role at Pozières on 23 July when commanding the battalion's leading company in the first stage of the attack.

He was severely wounded in the head at Pozières and was evacuated to England for  convalescence.  For conspicous gallantry and leadership he was awarded the Military Cross. He rejoined the unit in mid-November 1916. 

On 8 April 1917 during the Outpost Village campaign, he was wounded in the neck during a night attack on Louverval Wood.  He refused to leave the line for several hours and was an inspiration to his men.

He resumed duty at Ribemont in late May and from September had several postings which kept him away from the unit until June 1918. He rejoined it near Merris.  In a subsequent action he  was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross for his role at Mont de Merris on the night of 29 July when he led one of the attacking companies with great dash in a daring operation.

Back on the Somme for the Last Hundred Days offensive, McCann was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for action on 10 August 1918 at Crépey Wood, 'his courage and fine leadership prevented an important position falling into the hands of the enemy'. Crépey was 'under an inferno of enemy fire', but he directed his men with 'the greatest coolness and resource'.  The Battalion diary entry is concise -10 – 6.30 Line Crepey Wood – Bn. started for line. Crepey Wood trouble.

On 23 September McCann 1918 was promoted temporary major and was confirmed in rank on 21 October; that day he was seconded to the School of Tactics, Camberley, England.  He returned to the battalion as second-in-command on 7 December with the war over.

From early January 1919 until the unit was disbanded in March, he was commanding officer. He was mentioned in Earl Haig's final dispatch that month and led the 3rd Brigade in the victory march in London on Anzac Day 1919.

After repatriation to Australia he spent three months in Keswick Barracks Military Hospital, Adelaide, before his A.I.F. appointment was terminated on 8 September.

Few members of the A.I.F. had risen from private to battalion commander - Bill McCann did just that.

McCann took up farming in the Truro and Manoora areas, but his war injuries proved too great to continue.

He married Mildred Southcott (d.1948) at St John's in the Wilderness Church, in Halifax Street Adelaide on 20 August 1921.

With a career change in mind he became an articled clerk and entered the law school of the University of Adelaide in March 1922. Admitted to the Bar in 1925, he formed a partnership with Arthur Seaforth Blackburn, VC.

He and Arthur Blackburn were foundation members of the RSL in South Australia. 

McCann began soldiering again in 1927 as company commander in the 10th Battalion, Australian Military Forces (militia).

He transferred to the 43rd Battalion that year and became its commanding officer in December with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In 1930 he was placed on the unattached list and in 1935 on the reserve of officers.

In 1939 he briefly became officer commanding the special constabulary of men over 45, South Australian Emergency National Defence League. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1935 and C.M.G. in 1956 for his activities on behalf of ex-servicemen. In 1938-54 he was State and deputy Commonwealth prices commissioner.

He was State vice-president of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia in 1921-23 and president in 1924-29, resigning to unsuccessfully contest the seat of Boothby in the House of Representatives as a Nationalist.

'Bill' McCann was an able speaker and a keen debater with a pleasant and tenacious personality. Survived by two sons and a daughter, he died of coronary vascular disease at his Tusmore home on 14 December 1957, aged 65 years and was buried in North Road cemetery.

 

Editors Notes: Bill McCann had two brothers both of whom enlisted for service.  Lieutenant Colonel Claude Cyril John McCann MC, 27th Battalion.  1059 Lance Corporal  Jack Stewart Sydney McCann, 43rd Battalion who was killed in action at the Battle of LeHamel on 4 July 1918.

 

Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George  (1956)

Distinguished Service Order

Military Cross and Bar

Order of the British Empire (1935)

Mentioned in Despatches

1914/15 Star

British War Medal

Victory Medal

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