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CAVANAGH, Brian Hugh (1894-1983)

CAVANAGH, Brian Hugh DCM (1894-1983)

Brian Cavanagh was born at Horsham in 6 November 1894, the son of William Arthur Cavanagh (Inspector of Schools) and Jane Gwendolen nee Jason. He was enrolled at Geelong College for a single year in 1909. His entry address was Laurel Bank Parade, Geelong.

After enlisting (No 517) on 23 February 1915, he embarked on HMAT A14 Euripides on 10 May, with the 6 Light Trench Mortar Battery and served at Gallipoli and France where he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, gazetted 22 September 1916. The citation read: 'For gallantry and devotion to duty in action in keeping his mortar in action at Pozieres on 4th until seriously wounded, being the only survivor of the detachment. The emplacement was known to be a dangerous one and Cpl Cavanagh applied to be detailed for the work. Previously brought to notice at Armentieres for silencing two machine-guns and a Minenwerfer.'

War historian, C E W Bean described his work at Pozieres Heights on 5 August 1916:
'A trench-mortar under Cpl. B H Cavanagh also covered this flank. Its position was known to be a dangerous one, but Cavanagh, who applied for the task, kept the gun in action after all his team had been hit, until he himself was seriously wounded.'

Ron Austin wrote of his recuperation from his wounds in Forward Undeterred:
'Meanwhile an angry Cpl Brian Cavanagh who was recovering from the wounds he had received at Pozieres where he won the DCM, wrote to his mother from his hospital bed in the Lord Derby War Hospital in Lancashire. 'Things have been booming here, I will be glad to get out of the place. The place is all right, but it is the people who come fooling around pestering the life out of me to let them have my photo, and to sign autograph books, that get me. It’s the limit, just because I have had the luck (bad luck I say) to win a decoration there, old fools (most of them are old, if they were nice young things it wouldn’t be so bad) mess round me and have nothing to do with other fellows who are more in need of attention than I am. I’m all right, I don’t want me photo took. Damn my decoration! I say.'

The Australian War Memorial Collection holds letters written from the Military Hospital in England after his wounding in France, it contains few details, mainly about the injury sustained. He was invalided home on 12 November 1916, as reported in Pegasus of December 1917: 'Corporal B H Cavanagh DCM, has returned to Victoria, and during November was decorated by the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, together with nine other Australian soldiers in Melbourne.'

His brothers, Arthur William Cavanagh (1891-1953) and Eric Richard Cavanagh (1891-1976) who were also awarded the DCM were also educated at Geelong College.

The Pegasus of June 1943 noted: 'In the last war the Cavanagh brothers won fame by collecting three DCMs, and this war finds these 'three musketeers' still on service. Eric, who was with the AFC in 1914-18, holds the rank of Flight Lieutenant and is a 'defence officer' - he was present at the Milne Bay action and his duties entailed much travelling under rough conditions. Brian, who has a son in the Air Force, was in the Middle East with the AIF and is now a very busy officer of the ASC attached to an Armoured Division somewhere in Australia. Arthur, a senior Inspector of the Lands Deparhnent, holds the position of equipment officer in the Geelong Squadron of the ATC.'

In 1920, Brian married Miss Bessie Evelyn Hill, the daughter of George and Hannah(Bowman) Hill, of Tallangatta.

During World War II, Brian enlisted (No VX 0832) in the Second AIF on 31 July 1942, and served as Lt B H Cavanagh at 2/22nd Training Battalion, Wilsons Promontory, working alongside two Englishmen, Captains, Mike Calvert (Royal Engineers) and 'Freddie' Spencer Chapman (Seaforth Highlanders), Calvert was to achieve legendary status leading the Chindits in Burma. Spencer Chapman fought behind Japanese lines in Malaya.

He was discharged on 3 November 1943 and died at Mildura in 1983.

Sources: Based on an edited extract from Geelong Collegians at the Great War compiled by James Affleck; p153 (citing C E W Bean, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918: Vol III The AIF in France 1916; Ronald J Austin R F D, E D, Black and Gold: The History of the 29th Battalion 1915-1918; Ronald J Austin R F D, E D, Forward Undeterred: The History of the 23rd Battalion 1915-1918; Australian War Memorial; Pegasus; National Archives; Australian War Museum 2DRL/0133); Geelong Collegians at the Second World War p156 (citing The Pegasus, AWM, National Archives, Strike Swiftly: The Australian Commando Story.).
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