No.1677 Corporal Ralph Augustus Cecil
Ralph Augustus Cecil was born to Charles Cecil and Agnes Elizabeth (nee Vincent) in 1889 at Milawa in Victoria’s High Country, around 18 kilometres south-east of Wangaratta. His siblings were all born in the Wangaratta area:
- Harold Laceby - born 1877
- Mary Haidee - born 1878
- Charles Vincent - born 1880
- Albert Leceister - born 1882
- Augustus Percy - (1884-1885), and
- Percy Milwa - born 1886.
A school teacher by profession, he was teacher-in-charge at the Shepparton Park State School at the outbreak of the war in 1914, although his father, Mr Charles Cecil, was living at Footscray.
The 1914 Victorian Electoral Roll shows that Ralph was a teacher, living at Rochester, in Central Victoria.
Ralph Cecil enlisted in Melbourne on 3 March, 1916. His acceptance for army service was noted in the local press, having passed his final medical examination.
Shepparton Advertiser, 24 February 1926, p.3.
He was sent to the 14th Depot Battalion at Broadmeadows for training. While at the camp he was first appointed to “D” Company in the 39th Battalion. Between the 25 March and 31 March he was with the 14th Depot Battalion and then he was transferred to the 2nd Reinforcements, 57th Battalion.
On 4 April 1916, he embarked from Melbourne for Egypt, per HMAT Euripides A14. On board were the 2nd to 5th reinforcements of the 57th Battalion.
Ralph remained with the 2nd reinforcements, 57th Battalion until 24 May 1916, when he was taken on strength with the 58th Battalion, who were at Ferry Post East, near Tel-el-Kebir. His rank then was Lance Corporal.
The 58th Battalion moved to Moascar and waited for orders to move to Alexandria. They embarked from there on 17 June 1916 and disembarked at Marsailles on the 23 July 1916. From there it was a three day train trip to their new camp at Steenbecque, in northern France.
The Battalion travelled overland to Codford on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire that served as a transiting and training camp for thousands of ANZACs during World War I as they prepared to join the British Expeditionary Force in France.
Ralph didn't accompany the Battalion to France, but embarked from Alexandria per H.M.T. Aragon for Plymouth in England three days earlier, on the 13 June 1916. While there he was with the 15th Training Battalion at Codford, on the Salisbury Plains.
In October 1916, he was promoted to Acting Corporal, with extra duty pay.
He and his battalion of fellow reinforcements were sent to France in January 1917 and he was officially taken on strength with the 59th Battalion.
On the 17 January 1917, he returned to the 58th Battalion, at Bernafay in France and reverted back to being a Private. His Battalion at this time were shovelling snow out of their trenches and replacing duckboards, all the while coming under a heavy artillery bombardment.
During his service at the Front in 1917, the 58th Battalion participated in the second battle of Bullecourt that sought to break through the heavily defended Hindenburg Line, before moving to Ypres in Belgium where it played a key role in the battle of Polygon Wood.
The 20 June 1917 saw the 58th Battalion at their training camp at Contay in France. Ralph was again promoted to Lance Corporal in June, and to Corporal on 4 October 1917, when a vacancy arose. Ralph was allowed leave in England between 24 January 1918 and 12 February 1918.
It was during this time in England that Private Cecil wrote two letters to his brother, The Rev. H. Laceby Cecil, Minister at St Thomas' Church in Werribee, describing his impressions of London, and also details some of the military training he was involved in.
Werribee Shire Banner, 8 February 1917, p.3.
A second letter published spoke of his visit to Westminster Abbey and his impressions of London.
Werribee Shire Banner, 22 February 1917, p.3.
In May 1918, after serving as the Minister of St. Thomas’ Church in Werribee for seven years, Private Cecil’s brother (The Rev H. Laceby Cecil) was transferred to St. Saviors Church in Collingwood. This move would have closed the Cecil family’s link with the Werribee district.
Werribee Shire Banner, 2 May 1918, p.2.
A report of his farewell services were also published.
Werribee Shire Banner, 23 May 1918, p.3.
In June 1918, Ralph Cecil was sent back to England to undergo further training at Codford and at the Australian School of Musketry at Tidworth, also on the Salisbury Plain. On 11 July 1918, Ralph was transferred to No 14 Training Battalion in England, as a supernumerary. While there he attended the 22nd Rifle Course held by the Australian School of Musketry, and qualified on the operation of the Lewis Gun, on 17 August 1918. His service record notes that he qualified 1st Class and was judged as having “a fair knowledge of the Lewis Gun” – a US invented light machine gun that was proving popular with Australian troops.
He remained at the 14th Training Battalion at Tidworth in England until 29 January 1919, when he returned to France, via Southampton. Then on 7 February, he re-joined the 58th Battalion in the field at Dourlers in northern France.
In March 1919, Ralph was detached to the Australian Corps Workshops in France. He remained there until May of 1919, when he returned to Codford in the Salisbury Plains area of England on 14 May 1919, and began his discharge procedures.
Corporal Ralph Cecil embarked at Devonport per H. T. Main on 23 July 1919, bound for Australia. He disembarked at Melbourne on 11 October 1919, and was discharged from the A.I.F. on 3 December 1919.
Ralph’s parents had moved from Footscray to 244 Holden Street, North Fitzroy, in July 1919.
After the war he returned to Shepparton to continue his teaching career. The 1919 Victorian Electoral Roll shows that Ralph had returned to teaching, and was now living at Shepparton.
In 1924 he had moved to Silvan, and was teaching there in the State School.
1931 to 1937 saw him living at Albert Park in Melbourne with his sister, Heidee Mary Cecil.
Ralph died at South Melbourne on 9 April 1941, aged just 53.
An In Memoriam notice was inserted by his sister and brothers, recording that he was formerly a head teacher at Sprinvale North school, one year after his death.
The Argus, 9 April 1942, p.2.
He is buried amidst the calm and serenity of Daylesford – a far cry from his experiences in France and Flanders.
Medals & Entitlements:
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
Residence at outbreak of war – 1914 Electoral Roll
Shepparton Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 - 1918) Thursday 24 February 1916 Edition: EVENING. p 3 Article – reference to R.A. Cecil enlisting in the AIF.
Service record: NAA: B2455, Cecil R. A.