Victor Michael CAHILL

CAHILL, Victor Michael

Service Numbers: 2382, 2382A
Enlisted: 15 August 1915, Bendigo, Victoria
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 38th Infantry Battalion
Born: White Hills, Victoria, Australia, 1898
Home Town: Bendigo, Greater Bendigo, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Gardener
Died: Natural causes, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia, 18 February 1967
Cemetery: White Hills Cemetery, Bendigo
Memorials: White Hills Arch of Triumph
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World War 1 Service

15 Aug 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 2382, Bendigo, Victoria
25 Sep 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 2382, 60th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
25 Sep 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 2382, 60th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Shropshire, Melbourne
4 Oct 1917: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, SN 2382A, 38th Infantry Battalion, Broodseinde Ridge
29 Sep 1918: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, SN 2382A, 38th Infantry Battalion, Breaching the Hindenburg Line - Cambrai / St Quentin Canal, 2nd occasion - (gas)
9 Dec 1919: Discharged AIF WW1, Private, SN 2382A, 38th Infantry Battalion

Help us honour Victor Michael Cahill's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Jack Coyne

Pte Victor Michael Cahill    2382

Victor Cahill's sister, Mrs H. C Goulding of Heathcote wrote to the Defense Department on September 26, 1918 with the following inquiry –

Dear Sir,

I have a brother fighting in France and I wrote to him about 3 ½ months ago and I have received no answer. I sent a parcel to him about 6 months ago and I have not heard from him since then. I am worrying very much over him and I would like to know if he is safe and sound.

Obliged Mrs H. C Goulding                                                 Heathcote

There must have been hundreds of similar letters of inquiry arriving daily to the Defense department Base Records which at the time was located in St.Kilda Rd, Melbourne. The desperation for news of brothers, sons and fathers fighting on the Western Front is hard to fathom today.    

 The response from the Defense Department was prompt (sent just ten days after being Mrs Goulding’s letter), short, hardly enlightening, however somewhat reassuring her brother may be still alive.                                                                                              

5th October, 1918

 Dear Madam,

 I have to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 26th concerning your brother No. 2382A Private Victor. M. Cahill and in reply state as no recent report of casualty or indisposition has been received regarding this soldier it is assumed he is with his unit. His postal address being – No. 2382A Private V. M Cahill                                                         38th Battalion                                                                               Australian Imperial Forces                                                               Abroad    

Yours faithfully,                                                                        Major / Officer I/C, Base Records. 

Between the short time of his sister’s correspondence on September 26 and the response from the Base Records Office on October 5, Private Victor Cahill of the AIF 38th Battalion had been wounded in action for the second time on September 29 fighting to take the St. Quentin canal in Northern France where the Germans were putting up stubborn resistance.  The canal stood between Australian, American and British troops front line endeavouring to breach the impregnable Hindenberg Line. 

According the Australian War Memorial web site, the Australian Corps were exhausted from almost continuous operations since 8 August, 1918. Commander of the Australian Divisions, Lte General Monash had only two divisions in a reasonable state for combat - the 3rd and 5th - and was thus reinforced with the 27th and 30th United States Divisions.

As part of the 3rd Australian Division, Victor’s battalion, the 38th became embroiled in the fight, where all of their tanks had been destroyed or disabled, and the uncertain position of the forward troops prevented the use of artillery. The battle degenerated into a struggle for individual strong points, fought with bombs, bayonets and Lewis guns, that lasted for another three days.

By October 2, a gap of approximately 17 kilometres had been opened in the Hindenburg Line. The operation had cost the 3rd and 5th Australian Divisions 2,577 casualties. The German fighting spirit completely crushed and the war would grind to a halt by early November.

Victor had been gassed and he was out of action and would not rejoin his unit for over a month. This would probably be Victor’s last engagement in battle as the Australian troops were withdrawn to rest following the St. Quentin canal battle.

Here is Victor's story  

Victor Michael Cahill enlisted on August 15, 1916 one day before Isaac John Cahill, also of White Hills but it is not known whether they were related. Victor listed his nearest of kin as his mother Sarah Cahill of Heinz street, White Hills and stated that he was the sole support of his widowed mother.

 Victor had just turned eighteen and had listed his occupation as a gardener. He was assigned to the 38th battalion also known as the Bendigo Battalion.

Formed in March 1916 from recruits from the Bendigo district, the recruitment campaign was part of the new Government campaign to recruit ‘50,000 new soldiers’. Recruitment had dipped after news of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign had started to filter back into the country. The campaign promised that officers would come from the Bendigo district and that these local lads would now train and fight together. (see recruitment verse in the Bendigoian newspaper)

After an initial month spent at the 20th depot in Castlemaine Victor was transferred back into the 38th in early June in time for the new Battalion to ‘Present their Colours’ at Broadmeadows camp in front of the Governor General on June 14.  Three months later they would embark on HMAT Shropshire A9 on September 25 from Port Melbourne.

Unlike previous AIF troop ships the Shropshire would bypass the middle east and head straight to England. Victor would disembark at Plymouth on the southern coast of England on November 11, 1916. 

Arriving in wintry England would have come as quite a shock to Victor and the other Bendigo district lads and they found themselves transported to various training camps across Southern England. They were certainly not alone during this time, as records indicate in July 1916 over 90,000 Australian troops were in training in Great Britain.

He would spend nearly 11 frustrating months in the 60th and 66th training battalions at Penham Downs and Hurdcott camps awaiting to be deployed to the western front. Their final training camp would be Windmill Hill near Torquay in South Devon before embarking from nearby Southampton on August 25, 1917.

On arrival in France, Victor is ‘marched in’ to the AIF staging depot based in the town of Rouellee in Normandy, which is over 110 miles inland from their landing port of Le Havre.

On September 2, 1917 he makes his way back to 38th Battalion which had moved into the trenches of the French / Belgium border.  

Just a month later Victor is wounded on October 4, 1917 at the battle of Broodseinde. Broodseinde was a success, reflecting careful planning and preparation, but the 38th still suffered 29 per cent casualties. A record in his casualty form on October 8 states it is a GSW (gun shot wound) to the neck.

Just 8 days later his casualty record states he was wounded again, this time on October 13, day two of the battle of Passchendaele, which was a disaster for Commonwealth, troops. Executed in haste amidst horrendous conditions brought on by torrential rain by orders of British High Command in General Haig who had no understanding of the dreadful fighting conditions the men faced.  It was the 38th's most costly operation of the war, resulting in 62 per cent casualties. 

Victor’s mother would not receive word of his wounding in France till November 1917 and then there is little information in the telegram of the nature or severity of the wound.

It would be nearly six months that Victor spends in field stations and hospitals at Cayeux-sur-Mer and Rouelles in Northern France recovering from these wounds.

He either rejoins his unit in April or May of 1918. His battalion had been rushed south to France from Belgium in late March 1918 to meet the German Army's Spring Offensive.

From April till September, Victor’s 38th battalion as part of the 3rd Division would go on to play a major part in the taking of the crucial German stronghold of Mont St Quentin on the Somme River protecting the nearby town of Péronne.

AIF battalions from every Australian state led for the first time by an Australian Lieutenant General Sir John Monash captured this valuable position with the 38th losing over 1200 casualties. At a cost of 3000 casualties, the AIF dealt a stunning blow to five German divisions and caused a general German withdrawal eastwards to the Hindenburg Line.

The taking of Mont St Quentin and Péronne in early September is regarded as among the finest Australian feats on the Western Front and the intensity of the action is evident from the fact that eight Victoria Crosses were awarded to Australians between 31 August and 2 September 1918”.

British Commander General Lord Rawlinson remarked that ‘this feat by the Australian troops under Monash's command was the greatest of the war’.

Victor was again ‘Wounded in Action’ for a second or possibly third time, however this time he is gassed on September 29 in the taking of the St Quentin canal in late summer 1918 to breach the German Hindenburg Line. The 38th was involved in the Australian American attack which met stubborn German resistance.

 This possibly ended Victor’s fighting days. He would not rejoin his unit till late October and by then the Australian divisions had been withdrawn from the fighting after nearly 6 months of continuous fighting. The war would end just two weeks later.

Victor would spend another 9 months in France and England awaiting repatriation back to Australia. There were recorded bouts of AWL (Absent without Leave) however, this was the norm as on the whole for Australian soldiers in the lower ranks who didn’t see the need to follow the rigid military code now that the war was over and especially after their heavy lifting over the prior years.

In March 1919 he and his fellow AIF soldiers had been transported to Le Havre on the French coast for their journey to England. He would leave England on September 5 on HM troop ship ‘Plassy’ returning to Port Melbourne on October 25, 1919.  A journey of 50 days. He was discharged from the army on December 9, 1919.

Along with his comrades, he received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal in 1923.

Over the course of the First World War the 38th Battalion suffered heavily – 1478 were gassed or wounded and 499 were killed and buried in war graves. The valour of the 38th Battalion was recognised by over 150 decorations.

Private Victor Cahill is remembered by the people of White Hills. The names of the local lads who sacrificed their lives and those that were fortunate to return from the Great War are shown on the embossed copper plaques on the White Hills Arch of Triumph, at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens.

 

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