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CAVANAGH, Arthur William (1891-1953)

CAVANAGH, Arthur William DCM (1891-1953)

Arthur William Cavanagh was born in Horsham on 15 April 1891, the oldest son of William Arthur Cavanagh (Inspector of Schools) and Jane Gwendolen nee Jason. He was enrolled at Geelong College as a day student in 1906. His address at enrolment was Noble St, Geelong.

During World War I he enlisted (No 1096) on 12 July 1915 and embarked for Egypt with the 29th Battalion on HMAT A11 Ascanius on 10 November. He then went to France where he was wounded necessitating his evacuation to an English hospital. On his return to France he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal at Polygon Wood late in September 1917, and gazetted 26 November. The citation read:
'At Polygon Wood on 26 September 1917, the advance from the first to the second objective was held up, and Captain W H Thomson1 organised and led a party of fifteen, of whom Cpl Cavanagh was one, against the enemy positions. Although wounded early in the attack Cpl Cavanagh remained at duty, and when the party was prevented from advancing by the garrison of one concrete shelter, he single-handed rushed the position, and with Mills Grenades either killed or wounded the whole of the enemy garrison of about twenty, thus enabling the advance to continue. Cpl Cavanagh remained with the party until after the final objective had been taken and consolidated, and his bravery was much commented on by all those who saw his action.'

Eric Cavanagh wrote of his brother’s actions at Polygon Wood:
'He said they had just taken a pill box and had just sent forty prisoners back when a sniper got him in the groin and the bullet came out in the back, and as the Fritz barrage was pretty thick it was a couple of days before the stretcher bearers could get up to get him away. Then as he was going out he was unlucky enough to get another bullet in the other leg above the ankle.'

Arthur's action that day was also described by Ron Austin in the unit history, Black and Gold:
'Another member of C Company who displayed outstanding gallantry was Cpl Arthur Cavanagh, the battalion boxing champion, who commanded a Lewis gun section during the attack. Despite being wounded during the early stages of Thomson’s attack, Cavanagh rushed at a concrete pill box and threw in enough grenades to kill or wound the entire garrison of twenty Germans. In keeping with the athleticism of the man, Cavanagh refused medical treatment until such time as the enemy position was captured and consolidated.'

Later he was gassed, which necessitated his repatriation to Australia on 24 January 1918. He was one of three brothers who served in the AIF, who were all awarded the DCM. His battalion’s battle honours were Somme 1916, Pozieres, Bapaume 1917, Bullecourt, Ypres 1917, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcappelle, Passchendaele, Hamel, Amiens, Albert 1918, Mont St Quentin, Hindenburg Line, Beaurevoir, France and Flanders 1916-1918, Suvla, Gallipoli 1915-1916, Egypt 1915-1917.

His two brothers, Eric Richard Cavanagh (1891-1976) and Brian Hugh Cavanagh (1894-1983) who also were awarded the DCM during World War I were educated at Geelong College.

Arhur Cavanagh died in 1953.

1 Walker Henderson Thomson MC (1875-?), the son of John Barry Thomson and Jean nee Miller, of Kyneton, was awarded the Military Cross on the day of action at Polygon Wood. He returned to Australia, embarking in February 1918.

Sources: Based on an edited extract from Geelong Collegians at the Great War compiled by James Affleck; p.152-53 (citing Australian War Memorial; National Archives; Pegasus; Ron Austin, Black and Gold: The History of the 29th Battalion, AIF; AWM DAOD2287).
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