Billy McFadzean was a 20-year-old rifleman, born in Lurgan, in the 14th Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles. On 1 July 1916, near Thiepval Wood, France, in a concentration trench, a box of bombs being opened for distribution prior to an attack slipped down into the trench, which was crowded with men, and two of the safety pins fell out.
Private William F. McFadzean, instantly realising the danger to his comrades, with heroic courage threw himself on top of the bombs, which exploded, blowing him to pieces, but only one other man was injured. He well knew the danger, being himself a bomber, but without a moment's hesitation he gave his life for his comrades. Private McFadzean was awarded the Victoria Cross for most conspicuous bravery, even before the Battle of the Somme began.
Private McFadzean was detailed as a bomber in his company, one of those who went over the top carrying canvas buckets filled with hand grenades. His physique marked him out for such a role: he stood six feet tall, weighed thirteen stone and had been an enthusiastic junior rugby player, lining out for Collegians RFC.
The YCV Battalion (14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles) crossed from England to France on the 5th October 1915 on board the Isle of Man paddle steamer the Empress Queen. In a letter home Billy McFadzean writes:
"You people at home make me quite proud when you tell me I am the soldier boy of the McFadzean's. I hope to play the game and if I don't add much lustre to it, I certainly will not tarnish it."
On Sunday 1st July 1917 in Newtownbreda Presbyterian Church, on the outskirts of Belfast, an afternoon service was held to pay respects to the memory of William Frederick McFadzean in what had been his home church. A tablet was unveiled on which were the words: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends". The last post was played and the congregation sang "O' God our help in ages past" and the choir performed a beautiful anthem, a setting by Woodward of Tennyson's poem " Crossing the Bar".
William's father (also named William) was presented with his sons VC by King George V at a ceremony held in Buckingham Palace on Saturday 28th February 1917, having been granted a third-class return ticket from Cregagh to London. His Victoria Cross is displayed at The Royal Ulster Rifles Museum, Belfast.
Commemorations for William McFadzean include: Thiepval Memorial (Pier and Face 15A and 15B), Newtownbreda Presbyterian Church, First Lurgan Presbyterian Church, Collegians RFC and Castlereagh Borough Council.