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CAVANAGH, Eric Richard (1891-1976)

CAVANAGH, Eric Richard DCM (1891-1976)

Eric Cavanagh was notable as one of three brothers who all were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) during World War I. His brothers, Arthur William Cavanagh (1891-1953) and Brian Hugh Cavanagh (1894-1983) both attended Geelong College.

In Eric's Geelong College enrolment record, his birth date was given as 8 September 1892 however his birth certificate indicates this date as 5 September 1891. Eric was the son of William Arthur Cavanagh, an Inspector of Schools, and Jane Gwendolyn nee Jason and was enrolled at College as a day student in 1908. He continued his education at College and was in Class V B in 1909. He is also listed in the Annual Prize List of 1909 with a 1st Prize in the Third Class in Gymnastics. .

According to a descendant Eric's father was promoted and transferred from Geelong to Melbourne in October 1908. He died suddenly in April 1912 and his mother, Jane Gwendolyn Cavanagh then left the Camberwell home taking the four younger children to live in Horsham, Victoria.

Eric was working in the pastoral industry at Brim Springs, Horsham, at the start of World War I when he enlisted on 19 February 1915. He embarked on HMAT A14 Euripides on 10 May 1915. According to his enlistment papers he spent three years in the Senior Cadets

He served at Gallipoli and France with the 23 Battalion where he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), gazetted 13 February 1917. The citation read:
'For conspicuous gallantry as a Lewis Gunner throughout the operations of the Brigade in France from 26th March 1916. He has kept his gun in action in spite of heavy fire and great difficulties, and has been repeatedly employed in advance of our lines covering working parties etc. He has proved himself a cool and gallant soldier and a most able Machine Gunner'.

A friend, Ernest Ivan 'Tim' Ware (1894-1919) wrote to his parents describing Corporal Cavanagh’s exploits: 'Cav was in charge of a machine-gun detachment of six men, five were knocked out in one scrap and Cav worked the gun on his own till five new men joined him, of this lot two came out alive, Cav was one of them. I don’t know what his brother did, he is in with the Trench Mortar lot'.

Cavanagh’s 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 and Egypt 1915-1917.

Eric transferred to the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) on 1 September 1917, attended No 1 School of Military Aeronautics at Reading, England where he was promoted Lieutenant (Flying Officer) on 22 March 1918. In August 1917 Pegasus reported: 'E R Cavanagh has been promoted to Lieutenant on the field. His brother, Brian is returning to Australia invalided.' He was admitted on 26 March 1918 to 1st New Zealand General Hospital, Brockenhurst, as the result of an air accident, when he suffered contusions to his face and leg. He took leave with pay from 10 March until 25 April 1919 under the Repatriation and Demobilisation Scheme in order to study sheep shearing machines at the Wolseley Shearing Machines Co, Birmingham. The Australian War Museum holds an extensive collection of letters written to his mother, describing his experiences on Gallipoli and in France, from Egypt, Gallipoli, France, and after he had transferred to the Australian Flying Corps, from Wantage Hall, Reading, 14 Training Squadron at Tadcaster, and 73 Squadron RFC at Turnhouse, Midlothian.

During World War I, Eric Cavanagh sent the following poem to his mother:

Cavanagh Brothers.

Cavanagh Brothers.

When We Got Home.

The western sky is flushed with evening’s gold,
The tired birds are slowly winging home.
The long grey waves that roll around the world
Come to their rest. Would I were home.
The hardest winter’s followed by the rose,
Our weary task must some time have an end.
The longest day at last comes to a close
And we go home. Home in the end.
In the after days when all strife’s put aside,
When bitter memories slowly fade away.
The lessons learned will surely help to guide
Us in our path. Home far away.

Eric Cavanagh returned to Australia on HMT Ypiringa on 15 November 1919. After disembarking on 4 January 1920 his appointment was terminated on 12 April 1920.

During World War II, Eric enlisted once more as a Flight Lieutenant at 1 Wireless and Air Gunnersw School (1 WAGS) at Ballarat, one of three Wireless and Air Gunners Schools, the others being at Parkes, NSW and Maryborough, Queensland. Eric was discharged on 3 June 1944.

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.'

Eric died at Mildura on 21 February 1976.

(Ernest Ivan ‘Tim’ Ware, an Old Geelong Grammarian, and the son of John and Lucy Ware, of Strathample, Lower Gellibrand, wrote extensive letters to his parents of his service with 4 Field Artillery Brigade throughout the campaigns in Egypt, France and Belgium. He survived the war only to be struck down by the influenza epidemic in 1919, he died on 13 February 1919, and is buried in the Charleroi Civilian Cemetery - Grave C.4.)

Sources: 'Geelong Collegians at the Great War' compiled by J. Affleck; p.154 (citing Australian War Memorial; Ware Family Papers; National Archives; Pegasus; AWM 2DRL/0131); 'Geelong Collegians at the Second World War and Subsequent Conflicts compiled by J. Affleck p156 (citing The Pegasus; Australian War Memorial; National Archives); Pegasus April 1910 p13; Pegasus August 1917 p16' Pegasus June 1943; Correspondence H Makin 21 Aug 2012.
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