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Cyril Norman WOOD

Rank Reg/Ser No DOB Enlisted Discharge/Death Board
Lieut 635 21y2m 12 Oct 1914 25 Oct 1916 1

2nd Lieutenant Cyril Norman Wood (1893-1969)


Family Background

Maurice Christopher and Cyril Norman Wood were the third and fourth sons of Charles Frederick and Ellen Elizabeth (née Dodwell) Wood. Both served in the 1st AIF – Maurice in the 41st Infantry Battalion and Cyril in the 5th Light Horse Regiment.

Their parents were English-born, and married in St Mary’s Church, Kangaroo Point, Brisbane in January 1886. At that point Charles was a farmer at Tingalpa. Later he owned and operated a steam laundry. The family lived in Gregory Terrace, Spring Hill and then Free Street, Kelvin Grove, and attended Saint Andrew’s Church on the corner of Ann and Creek Streets in Brisbane. Cyril was born in Brisbane on 13 September 1893.


When he enlisted in Longreach on 12 November 1914 his occupation was station hand. He was aged 21, 5’5.25” (166cms) tall, had brown eyes and dark brown hair, a dark complexion, and weighed 129.25 pounds (58.6 kg). He was appointed to ‘A’ Squadron in the 5th Light Horse Regiment. He was among those who embarked on the Persic in Sydney on 21 December 1914, and arrived in Egypt on 1 February 1915.

Service in Gallipoli

The 5th Light Horse landed at Gallipoli on 20 May 1915, and from late June occupied a position on the right flank, from the beach to Machine Gun Ridge, including Chatham’s Post, where Cyril’s Squadron had its dugouts. There was no rest, with sapping or tunnelling continually going on, the arduous work of carrying rations and water up from the beach, as well as night patrols and occasional raids. The men were pressed to their limits and sometimes beyond, in unhealthy conditions with poor food and sanitation, limited water, multitudinous flies and disease prevalent.

Cyril was promoted to Lance Corporal on 9 August, but succumbed to enteric on 20 August, and was subsequently also diagnosed with jaundice and catarrh. He re-joined the 5th on 14 November. A few days earlier the 5th had advanced their position to Wilson’s Lookout on Harris Ridge, but the Lookout was a major challenge to hold. Enemy trenches were only 22 yards away – according to the Regimental history, broomstick bombs ‘rained upon us day and night’ – and the location was very exposed to enemy artillery and machine guns. 

On 26 November the 5th was shifted to Ryrie’s Post and was there – in snow and bitter cold - until the discrete evacuation of the Peninsula 18-20 December 1915. Various ploys were adopted by the Anzacs to try to deceive the Turks in the lead up to the evacuation, which was carefully staged over two nights. Cyril, by now promoted to Corporal, was in the small group of 28 in the 5th who stayed until the very last. 

The general expectation was that a large part of the rear-guard would be killed or captured. Official historian Charles Bean recorded that from late on the night of 19 December, only 1500 men in total were spread along the Anzac frontline of 11 000 metres, with no hope of impeding any sort of serious attack. The tension for the rear-guard stretched over the next four and a half hours. In the event, no Turkish attack occurred and they got off safely in the early hours of the morning of 20 December, but it must have taken titanium-strength nerves.

Service in Egypt

The 5th returned to Egypt and on 28 December 1915 Cyril was made a temporary Sergeant. On 3 February he was promoted to Lance Sergeant and then Sergeant on 21 February 1916. The 5th was quartered at Dueidar from April to August 1916. Despite extreme heat, extensive patrols and reconnaissance were undertaken. On 22 July 1916 Cyril was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant.

A Turkish attack on Romani was unsuccessful and the retreating force was tracked by Allied forces looking for a chance to attack. They did so on 9 August 1916 near Katia, despite the Turkish force being twice as large, holding well constructed trenches and redoubts, and supported by mountain artillery and howitzers

In the fighting – known as the battle of Bir el Abd - Cyril suffered a severe head wound and fractured skull from a shell explosion. He was noted as dangerously ill and his parents were informed, but the worst did not eventuate.

Life Back in Australia

Cyril was sent back to Australia on the Ascanius and arrived in Melbourne on 29 September 1916. He was assessed as unfit for active service and his AIF commission was formally terminated with effect from 25 October 1916. However, he was appointed as a Captain in the Citizens Military Forces, with the role of intelligence officer in the 1st military district (which was Queensland).

On 18 October 1917 Cyril married Brisbane-born Nesta Muriel Harkness, the daughter of a hide and skin expert, James McNaught Harkness and his wife Flora née Faulkner. The wedding took place in St Colomb’s Church (Church of England) in Clayfield, and the couple lived at Denham Street, Clayfield in a house Cyril named Bir-el-Abd.  

Cyril and Nesta had one son in 1919 – Kenneth Ronald – who enlisted in the RAAF in the Second World War, was captured by the Japanese, and was presumed dead after a Japanese transport was torpedoed by an American ship in September 1944.

Combat in the Courts

It is not clear how long Cyril was employed in the CMF, but it was until at least October 1919. He had some public profile as a result of being the ‘official complainant’ in a number of court cases. After the complaint, police would investigate, lay charges if justified, and Cyril would sometimes be called to give evidence in court. 

The cases reported in the newspapers included charges against individuals for making statements likely to prejudice recruiting, exhibiting a red flag in contravention of War Precautions regulations, misrepresenting themselves as a returned serviceman, illegally wearing an AIF uniform, and wearing a military medal that had not been awarded to them.

Cyril was the official complainant in two cases that had particular prominence at the time. One concerned a charge of prejudicing recruitment against the then Queensland Premier, T. J. Ryan. The second involved Defence documents stolen from the intelligence unit in Brisbane and an attempt to defraud.

Ryan was a leading opponent of conscription. During the second conscription referendum campaign in 1917, some public statements by Ryan that he also repeated in Parliament, were controversially censored by the Commonwealth. Cyril wasn’t involved with the censorship, but was the formal complainant alleging that on 28 November 1917 Ryan ‘did verbally make a false statement of fact of a kind likely to affect the judgement of electors in relation to their vote at the said Referendum namely a statement to the effect that 109 000 men are left for the purposes of reinforcements’. 

The criminal charge was heard in the police court the following week. The Commonwealth case was weak, seeking to rely on figures from General Legge that there were only 21 050 men available as reinforcements. These had been put into the public domain on 22 November 1917. 

However, figures used in Ryan’s calculations were similar to ones publicly stated earlier by the Minister for Defence and the Assistant Minister for Defence. The Commonwealth case also looked rushed, and Cyril and General Legge had an uncomfortable time in the witness box. Given the criminal standard of proof and confusion over the statistics, the magistrate probably had little difficulty in deciding to dismiss the case.  

The stolen documents case was against a solicitor, Phillip Holzberger and Johannes Tilaanus, a returned serviceman employed as a translator of German in the intelligence section at Victoria Barracks, Brisbane. 

They were charged in December 1919 with conspiring to steal correspondence held by the intelligence section between the German Consul in Brisbane, the German Consul-General in Sydney and the German Imperial Government, and then seeking to defraud the wife of the former German Consul, Dr Eugene Hirschfeld. In offering to sell her the documents, they suggested that the material would assist her husband, then in detention, to fight deportation from Australia. She reported this approach to the authorities and Tilanus and Holzberger were charged. Tilanus pleaded guilty and Holzberger was found guilty after a trial in which Cyril gave convincing evidence.

Later Years

Records don’t disclose when Cyril finished with the CMF, but by 1925 he was working as an agent. At some point he and Nesta ceased living together, but there is nothing definite on when this happened. In 1928 he was working as a seaman and using his parents’ address in Kelvin Grove, and then seems to have been a salesman throughout the 1930s. In August 1939, Cyril joined the Postmaster-General’s Department, working as a stores assistant in the engineering branch in Brisbane. 

Service During the Second World War

During the Second World War he had a period of full-time duty as a Temporary Captain from 16 July 1940 and then Temporary Major from 30 March 1942 until 8 November 1942.


In retirement Cyril lived in Loder Street, Labrador, at the northern end of the Gold Coast. He married again at the age of 75 – to Lilyian May.


Cyril died on 11 December 1969, aged 76. He donated his body to the School of Anatomy at the University of Queensland. Later his remains were cremated at the Albany Creek Crematorium in October 1971. 


Select Bibliography
• Australian War Memorial
• Electoral rolls
• Queensland births, marriages and deaths registers
• Queensland Blue Books (State Library of Queensland) 
• Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 26704, ID 26705.
• National Archives of Australia – service records
• Bou, Jean Light Horse: A history of Australia’s mounted arm Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, 2009.
• Gullett, HS, ‘The Australian Imperial force in Sinai and Palestine’ volume vii of Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1923.
• MacGibbon, FW The Forty First Australian Commonwealth Military Forces 1919.
• Scott, Ernest, ‘Australia During the War’ volume xi of Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1936, pp94-97.
• Wilson, LC, and Wetherall, H, History of the 5th Light Horse Regiment (Australian Imperial Force) A. Green, Brisbane, 2008.
• Telegraph (Brisbane) 15 April 1915, p10.
For the Ryan case see particularly:
• Daily Standard (Brisbane) 4 December 1917 p1; 7 December p3.
• Brisbane Courier 4 December 1917 p8; 7 December 1917 p8.
For other court cases see:
• Bowen Independent 19 January 1918 p2.
• Brisbane Courier 25 Sept 1919 p3.
• Daily Mail (Brisbane) 1 Sept 1917 p4; 7 Oct 1919 p6.
• Daily Standard (Brisbane) 17 January 1918 p5.
• Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 12 June 1919 p7; 26 June 1919 p7.
• Telegraph (Brisbane) 31 Aug 1917 p2; 1 Sept 1917 p9; 2 Oct 1919 p5; 30 Oct 1919 p2.
• The Queenslander (Brisbane) 11 Oct 1919 p11.
• The Week (Brisbane) 7 Sept 1917 p12; 10 Oct 1919 p11.
• The Worker (Brisbane) 16 Oct 1919 p15.
• Truth (Brisbane)2 Sept 1917 p5.

Compiled by Ian Carnell, Brisbane, February 2016.



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