Cyril Wilmot BEST

BEST, Cyril Wilmot

Service Number: SX1701
Enlisted: 8 March 1940, Port Lincoln, SA
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 2nd/31st Infantry Battalion
Born: Gosport, England, 12 October 1906
Home Town: Port Lincoln, Port Lincoln, South Australia
Schooling: Portsmouth, UK
Occupation: Farm Labourer
Died: Port Lincoln, SA, 18 June 1991, aged 84 years, cause of death not yet discovered
Cemetery: Happy Valley Cemetery, Port Lincoln
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World War 2 Service

8 Mar 1940: Involvement Private, SN SX1701
8 Mar 1940: Involvement Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SN SX1701, 2nd/31st Infantry Battalion
8 Mar 1940: Enlisted Port Lincoln, SA
8 Mar 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SN SX1701, 2nd/31st Infantry Battalion
21 Jan 1945: Discharged
21 Jan 1945: Discharged Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SN SX1701, 2nd/31st Infantry Battalion

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Biography contributed by Geoffrey Stewart

Cyril was born on 12 Oct 1906 at Gosport (UK) to Norman Frederick John Best and Agnes Mary Best (nee O’Brien).  He was the second eldest of 9 children in the family, 7 boys and 2 girls. His father was a labourer in Portsmouth (UK).

He went to school at a church school in Portsmouth, leaving at Year 4 to work in a munitions factory in UK during WW1. He then moved out to Australia in 1924 as a “Barwell Boy” aboard the “Benalla”, disembarking at Port Lincoln and then moving to Coodlie (also spelled Coodlee) Park Station, Talia SA for employment. The “boys” were supposed to stay with their allotted families until they paid off the cost of their fare to Australia. He became rather disillusioned with this idea and gained permission to leave and go cutting fence posts; he also tried his hand at shearing. He then bought a farm, “Uncondithchie” with one of his brothers who had also come to Australia; unfortunately they lost the farm during the Depression. He then resumed working on farms in the area.   

The remainder of the family also came to Australia in later years.

He met and married Mary Agnes Fraser from Elliston on 7 Dec 1935 at Mount Damper.

At the time of enlistment on 8 May 1940, he gave his occupation as labourer, his next of kin as his wife and his address as Port Lincoln.

After enlistment at Port Lincoln he was sent to Adelaide for processing, reporting for duty on 9 Mar 1940. Almost a month later (11 Apr 1940) he was transferred to 1st Training Battalion (Bn) for basic training; during which he was allocated to 2nd Reinforcements, 2/10th Bn. At the completion of training he was given pre-embarkation leave from 8-16 Jun 1940, embarking from Adelaide on 24 Jun 1940 aboard RMS “Strathmore” bound for Liverpool (UK), disembarking on 30 Jul 1940. On 16 Aug 1940 he was transferred from 10th Bn to 70th Bn and undertook a further period of training, before his Bn was retitled 2/31st Bn.

The 2/31st Bn was one of 3 formed in UK in 1940 to create the 25th Infantry Brigade. The Bn's personnel were drawn from Australians who had just arrived in UK; manpower shortages meant the Bn only comprised 3 rifle companies instead of the usual 4.

Cyril embarked from UK on 4 Jan 1941 aboard HMT “J 19”, with his unit, disembarking in Egypt on 9 Mar. On arrival the Bn moved to Palestine for training where it was joined by a fourth rifle company. On 11 Apr 1941, the Bn moved to Egypt to bolster the defences along the Libyan frontier against an expected German attack; it occupied positions at Mersa Matruh.
In late May 1941, the 2/31st returned to Palestine to take part in their first offensive operation, the invasion of Syria and Lebanon. Their first major engagement in eastern Lebanon was around Khirbe between 8 and 11 Jun 1941. It was then tasked to capture the town of Jezzine, which controlled one of the routes to the coast. Jezzine fell to the 2/31st on 14 Jun but was heavily counter-attacked by the Vichy French on the 16 Jun 1941. The terrain around Jezzine was steep and rugged and the fighting exhausting. The 2/31st remained in Lebanon as part of the garrison until 13 Jan 1942, before being recalled to defend Australia.
Cyril, with his unit, embarked from Port Tewfik (Egypt) on 9 Feb 1942 bound for Australia, disembarking in Adelaide on 10 Mar 1942. The unit then trained in Northern Australia until the end of Aug 1942 before embarking from Brisbane on 31 Aug, disembarking in Port Moresby on 9 Sep 1942 to reinforce the battered Australian units on the Kokoda Trail. Joining the fray at Ioribaiwa on 15 Sep, the battalion was soon withdrawn, with the rest of the Australian force, to Imita Ridge. The Japanese did not follow. The 2/31st Bn then participated in the advance back along the trail when the Japanese retreated. On 1 Nov it was the first battalion to re-enter Kokoda, and played a key role in smashing the last Japanese defensive position on the trail at Gorari between 7 - 11 Nov.

The 2/31st was then briefly involved in operations at Gona between 23 Nov - 4 Dec, before returning to Port Moresby by air on 15 Dec 1942; for embarkation back to Australia on 17 Jan 1943, disembarking in Australia on 19 Jan 1943.
The unit then undertook further training during which Cyril was promoted to Lance Corporal on 10 Jun 1943 before returning to PNG on 26 Jul 1943 aboard the HMAT “Canberra”, disembarking in Port Moresby on 29 Jan 1943. The 2/31st flew into Nadzab on 12 Sep and, after a hurried advance, joined the fighting east of Lae, which fell on 16 Sep. On 29 Sep the unit was flown from Nadzab to Kaipit and spent the rest of the year principally engaged in patrol actions in the Ramu Valley and the foothills of the Finisterre Range.

On 15 Apr 1944 Cyril was evacuated to 2/11th Army General Hospital (AGH) suffering from Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI), but was discharged in time to return to Australia with his unit, embarking at Buna on 29 Apr 1944 aboard HMAT “Katoomba”, disembarking in Sydney on 12 May 1944. He was then given leave, but whilst on leave reported sick to Port Lincoln Hospital and was diagnosed with Malaria; 2 days later he was evacuated to 105th AGH in Adelaide, suffering from Malaria and dysentery.

This was to be the end of the war for Cyril. On 12 Jul1944 he was released from hospital to the Kabara Convalescence Home, but after a fortnight he was readmitted to 105th AGH where he remained for a further 2 weeks before being released to SA Lines of Communication area to resume leave. Whilst on leave he was readmitted to hospital, this time 121st AGH, with dermatitis. 2 weeks later he was released from hospital and again sent on leave and then LWOP until 27 Dec 1944. On return from leave he was medically downgraded and on the 21 Jan 1945 he was medically discharged in Adelaide.

After discharge Cyril returned to Port Lincoln with his wife and moved into the Hermitage Apartments whilst they had their new home built, virtually across the street. He gained employment with the Government Projects Department (known as the GPD) as an electrician. Unfortunately his wife, Mary, died in Jan 1950 and is buried in the Happy Valley Cemetery.

Cyril remarried in Dec 1950 to Lilian Gilling in the Methodist Church at Cleve and the couple returned to live in the house at Port Lincoln. He then took employ as a slaughterman with the “Freezer Works”. He remained in this employ until his retirement in 1968, due to ill health.
He was a very community minded person and was awarded life memberships of both the St. Johns Ambulance and the Port Lincoln City Band to recognise his service. It was said that he would always help anyone in genuine need.    

Cyril died at home on 18 Jun 1991 and is buried in Port Lincoln Happy Valley RSL War Cemetery. 

His wife, Lilian, died on 25 Oct 2003 and is buried beside him.     

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