Herbert Vincent McGrath
Born in Quirindi in 1894, Herbert Vincent McGrath was the fifth of seven children born to James McGrath and Mary Jane Norris. Herbert grew up in Cudal, where he and his siblings attended the local public school.
In February 1916 “Vin”, as he had become known, enlisted at Bathurst. The 21 year old entered Bathurst Training Camp the same day. In April he was assigned to the 45th Battalion, 3rd Reinforcement as a private. During his time in camp Vin was inoculated against typhoid.
In April 1916 Vin returned to Cudal for final leave. A farewell social was held in the Cudal Hall, and Vin was presented with a periscope, a razor and two pairs of knitted socks.
On 22 May 1916 Private McGrath embarked HMAT Warilda in Sydney. Vin described the Warilda as “a fine boat”, saying he had “a very enjoyable time on board”, declaring: “I eat like a horse and am getting as fat as a pig.” He also described the generous hospitality he received in Durban, where one hundred men in his unit were invited to Dr Campbell’s house for dinner where they were waited on by “very nice girls”, who later showed them round the town.
Private McGrath arrived in Plymouth on 18 July 1916. The following day he was marched into the 12th Training Battalion at Rollestone to undertake further training, including bomb-throwing. During a leave of absence to London Vin witnessed a zeppelin being shot down. He described this in a letter home as “the grandest sight of all”:
We were nice and cosy in our beds. About 2 a.m. I was awakened by the blowing of a loud whistle. Running out into the street I saw search lights playing in all directions. Soon the Zeppelin was picked up and shells began bursting around it. It appeared to get hit on the side. It took fire, and descended in flames like a ball of fire, lighting up the place for miles around. It caused great excitement. I tried to get to it, but could not on account of the crush.
Vin concluded his letter:
We will be leaving in a few days for France, which they tell me is a beautiful country.
On 5 September Vin embarked for France; he arrived in Etaples a week later, on 11 September 1916. On 21 November men of the 45th Battalion were engaged holding the line at Gueudecourt, near Bapaume, where they were subjected to heavy enemy artillery. Private McGrath was the only man killed by enemy fire that day; five others were wounded. He has no known grave.
Herbert Vincent McGrath is commemorated on Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in France, the Cudal District Honour Roll, the Cudal and District War Memorial Gates, the Toogong War Memorial and on panel number 140 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Herbert’s brothers John Edward McGrath and Bertie Augustus McGrath also served in WWI. John returned to Australia in February 1919, and Bertie in June 1919.
Molong Argus, 22 December 1916, p. 4.
Extracts from late Pte. McGrath’s Letters