Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Carroll (1891–1971)

by Rex Clark

This article was published:

John Carroll (1891-1971), by unknown photographer

John Carroll (1891-1971), by unknown photographer

State Library of Western Australia, 005043D

John Carroll (1891-1971), soldier, labourer and railway employee, was born on 16 August 1891 in Brisbane, son of John Carroll, labourer, and his wife Catherine, née Wallace, both Irish-born. When he was 2 the family moved to Donnybrook, Western Australia, and then to Yarloop. About 1905 they settled at Kurrawang where John and his father joined the Goldfields Firewood Supply Co. as labourers. Tall and well built, John was a good athlete and a prominent member of the local football club; he was working as a railway guard on the Kurrawang line when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a private on 27 April 1916.

Carroll embarked for England in August with reinforcements for the 44th Battalion, then on 14 November was transferred to the 33rd Battalion. He went into the line at Armentières, France, and served there until April 1917 when his unit moved into position for the Messines offensive. On 7 June, in the battle of Messines Ridge, he rushed an enemy trench and bayoneted four men, then rescued a comrade who was in difficulties. Later in the advance he attacked a machine-gun crew, killing three men and capturing the gun, and, in spite of heavy shelling and machine-gun fire, dug out two of his mates who had been buried by a shell explosion. During the battle his battalion was in the line for ninety-six hours and Carroll 'displayed most wonderful courage and fearlessness' throughout. He was awarded the Victoria Cross and in September was promoted lance corporal. On 12 October, in the second battle of Passchendaele, he was severely wounded and did not rejoin his unit until June 1918; next month he was transferred to A.I.F. headquarters, London, and in August returned to Australia.

After demobilization Carroll resumed work as a guard on the Kurrawang line. He married Mary Brown in the Catholic Cathedral, Perth, on 23 April 1923; they had no children. In the mid-1920s he moved to the Yarloop district and in November 1927, when he was working as a railway truck examiner at Hoffman's Mill, he slipped while boarding a train during shunting operations and crushed his right foot; it was amputated but he continued working for many years as a labourer and railway employee. In 1956 he went to London for the Victoria Cross centenary celebrations, then retired to the Perth suburb of Bedford. He died in the Repatriation General Hospital, Hollywood, on 4 October 1971 and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery with full military honours. His wife had predeceased him.

Carroll, who was known among his A.I.F. comrades as 'the wild Irishman', was casual and happy-go-lucky by nature. He missed three dates for his investiture with the V.C. and had to be sent for on the fourth occasion; after the ceremony he amused himself by exercising the Victoria Cross winners' right to turn out the Buckingham Palace Guard. He was also known as 'Referendum Carroll' because he rarely said anything but yes or no. Two of his brothers served as privates in the A.I.F.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916-17 (Syd, 1929, 1933)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • London Gazette, 2 Aug 1917
  • Western Argus (Kalgoorlie), 21 Aug 1917
  • Daily News (Perth), 1-2 Nov 1927.

Citation details

Rex Clark, 'Carroll, John (1891–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Carroll (1891-1971), by unknown photographer

John Carroll (1891-1971), by unknown photographer

State Library of Western Australia, 005043D

Life Summary [details]


16 August, 1891
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


4 October, 1971 (aged 80)
Hollywood, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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