Cyril Arthur Bennett (1895-1981)
Cyril Arthur Bennett was one of Western Australia’s most distinguished soldiers, serving in the Medical Corp. He is one of the few people to serve in both the first and second world wars.
He was born in Fremantle, on the 25th September 1895 to Phillip Bennett and Lucy Hancock. His parents were born in Victoria and married in Tasmania in 1891 and Cyril was one of ten children. (reference) Cyril attended Fremantle Boys School and in 1909 was awarded Dux of the school, winning the Headmaster’s special prize. (reference). He worked as a clerk in the family’s grocery business, Bennett and Burnside, in Fremantle.(reference)
In 1914 Cyril enlisted with the AIF 2nd Stationary Hospital with the rank of Private and departed Fremantle in December 1914. (reference) Leaving Fremantle, the 2nd ASH sailed to Egypt, quickly establishing medical facilities to accommodate an outbreak of disease and infection. By April 1915, the unit was positioned at Lemnos...The horrendous outcome of heavy casualties at Gallipoli saw hospital ships engage in the critical evacuation of thousands of wounded from Gaba Tepe on the peninsula to Alexandria. (reference) (see photo of Pte Bennett in Egypt). In a sad twist of fate his brother Roy Bennett had joined the AIF 10th Light Horse Regiment in 1915 and later that year died of wounds from the August assault of Hill 60, Gallipoli. (reference)
In 1916 Cyril was promoted to Corporal. Sue Bennett-Ng, 64, Cyril’s only daughter recalled that her father had a strong admiration for the Turks, calling them ‘honourable’, and also a disdain for Winston Churchill and his blunders with the Gallipoli campaign. She recalls that despite his impressive military record, Cyril opposed conscription.
“During the First World War there was a referendum conducted and I remember dad saying all his mates at Gallipoli voted against it because none of them wanted young people sent to war against their will,” Mrs Bennett-Ng said. (reference)
In 1917 Cyril was promoted to Sergeant and in 1919 returned to Australia. He returned to the family business for a short period of time, before moving to Melbourne for work. In 1925 Cyril married Sheila Lillian Harvey. They returned to WA and Cyril took up a position of Chief Steward for State Steamship Line. In 1928 their first son Phillip Bennett was born. Phillip followed in his father's footsteps and was accepted into the Royal Military College Duntroon. (reference) . Phillip eventually reached the rank of General and Chief of the Defence Force and after retiring -went on to be Governor of Tasmania.
In 1929 Cyril was charged with driving under the influence. His defence lawyer argued that his client suffered from the effects of injuries received during the war, his gait being at times unsteady, and although he had had five drinks during the day, he was not under the Influence at the time of the alleged offence. No further action was taken. (reference)
In 1940 Cyril returned to the AIF with the rank of Lieutenant and was stationed with the 8th Australian Casualty Clearing Station. He may have re-enlisted because employment was difficult at the time and the Defence Forces ‘’guaranteed a job’’ (see private correspondence) and In 1941 Cyril was promoted to Captain.
In 1945 his wife Sheila bought a house at 28 Alexandra Road, East Fremantle, close to his mother at 27 Alexandra Road. He found out that he owned the house when he returned, discharged from the AIF in 1946. After the war he was employed as an accounting officer with the Ordnance Depot in Midland until he retired in 1956. His daughter, Sue was born around 1948/49 and Cyril’s second son, Peter was born around 1930. Peter also attended Duntroon, choosing to pursue a post war career with the RAAF as a navigator. (reference)
Mrs Bennett-Ng, Cyril’s daughter protested the Vietnam War and said her father was faced with a difficult situation when the Vietnam War began.
“During the Vietnam War when he was quite an old man, my brother Phillip was leading the first task force into Vietnam while I was protesting on the streets in Perth as part of the moratorium,” she said, “He supported me in that, as well as Phillip, which must have been hard for him.”
Phillip was the first Australian casualty in Korea (wounded) Oct 1950. (reference)
In 1981 Cyril died at the age of 87 years.
We are grateful to the Correspondence from Sue Bennett-Ng (Cyril’s Daughter) 22.7.2019 with Anthony Lazzarich.
Research by Lloyd McClure and Anthony Lazzarich