- Born: 15 Sep 1895, Wandiligong, Victoria, Australia
- Died: 23 May 1917, La Chapelette near Peronne, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France at age 21
- Buried: May 1917, La Chapelette British Cemetery, near Peronne, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France
Cyril Lawrence enlisted as a Sapper in the AIF in the 1st Division Signal Co. in Melbourne on the 19th August 1914 at the age of 19 years, 1 month. At the time he was a Blacksmith, having been apprenticed for 18 months to a Blacksmith in Brunswick, Victoria. He listed his next-of-kin as his mother, Mary Lawrence who was living at 20 Staley Street in East Brunswick. He indicated that he had previous experience in the Signal Engineers and Senior Cadets for 2 years. His Service Number is 132.
When he signed up, Cyril was recorded as 5' 4" tall, and he weighed jus 9 st. 10 lbs (61.7 kgs) so he was not a big man. He had a Dark complexion, brown eyes and dark hair.
Cyril departed Australia on the 20th October 1914 on board the Karroo. They were bound for Anzac Cove. By the 5th April 1915 his Unit had joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in Gallipoli. The M.E.F. was part of the British Army and commanded all of the Allied forces at Gallipoli. The M.E.F were in the throes of planning for the Gallipoli landings which were to occur on 25th April 1915.
Cyril Lawrence was amongst those who created the ANZAC legend on that fateful day. As soon as the sappers landed they established a divisional signal office and laid wires between the HQ and the brigades at the front lines. By midnight of that day the HQ signallers sat with telephones and message forms, constantly in touch with the brigades.
One of Cyril's Signaller comrades, from another Battallion - Ellis Silas - recorded an account of that day in a book he published in 1916. His diary for the 25th April provides a chilling account of the day, and the succeeding days, and what faced all of the Diggers, but especially the Signallers:
In the distance one can just discern the Dardenelles opening up - the thunder of the guns is much clearer - the weather this morning is beautiful; what will it be to-night? Studies. I have eaten well. I can now see fire from the guns. I wonder which of the men round me has been chosen by Death. I do not feel the least fear, only a sincere hope that I may not fail at the critical moment.
5.30 pm. We are on the battlefield, well under the fire of the enemy - it is difficult to realise that every burst of flame, every spurt of water, means Death or worse. For days before we reached the final scene in the 'Great Adventure' we could hear the ceaseless thunder of the bombardment, we have been told of the impossible task before us, of probable annihilation; yet we are eager to get to it; we joke with each other about getting cold feet, but deep down in our hearts we know when we get to it we will not be found wanting. The Assembly is sounded - I have never seen it answered with such alacrity - there is a loud cheer as we gather together in the hold. Here for last time in this world many of us stand shoulder to shoulder. As I look down the ranks of my comrades I wonder which of us are marked for the land beyond. Perhaps I shall fly through the side of the ship to answer my question. I don't think I can carry my kit - I can scarcely stand with the weight of it. We are descending on to the destroyer Ribble which is along side us. Noise of the guns simply frightful. Colour of the sea beautiful. We are packed very tightly on the destroyer. One of the boys just remarked:
'Mind where you are stepping, Silas.'
I looked down - there at my feet are three silent forms half covered by a tarpaulin - one of them a Signaller. I have often been told of the danger of signalling - that few signallers last more than three days. Now indeed is this brought home to me with considerable force - once more I pray that I may not fail the Battalion in the hour of need - I know full well that the miscarriage of a message may mean the lives of hundreds of men. The destroyer alongside us is signaling, but the Navy men are to quick for me - please God the others won't be. The sailors are very kind to us, I think they know what we are going to face - can see boat-loads of wounded being towed from the shore - shrapnel just burst over our heads, thank God no damage - getting nearer the shore, Turks pelting us like anything. The ships are keeping the top of the ridges under a continual line of fire - am just told that we have landed 20,000 men. We are transferring into the boats - it is raining lead - Turks firing wide.
It was relief to get ashore; we are packed so tightly in the boats and moreover so heavily laden with our kit that, had a shot hit the boat, we should have no chance of saving ourselves - it was awful the feeling of utter helplessness. Meanwhile the Turks pelted us hot and fast. In jumping ashore I fell over, my kit was so heavy; I couldn't get up without help - fortunately the water was shallow at this point, otherwise -. It was a magnificent spectacle to see those thousands of men rushing through the hail of Death as though it was some big game - these chaps don't seem to know what fear means - in Cairo I was ashamed of them, now I am proud to be one of them though I feel a pigmy beside them. Wish there wasn't quite such damned noise with the guns, it is sending me all to pieces - don't think I shall ever make a soldier.
The beach is littered with wounded, some of them frightful spectacles; perchance myself I may at any moment be even as they are. Indians bringing ammunition mules along the beach - the scene of carnage worries them not all. It is commencing to get dark - we are now climbing the heights. I am given a pick to carry - half way up I had to drop it, it was too much for me. The lads on the top of the hill are glad to see us for they have been having an anxious time holding their position on the Ridge - 'Pope's Hill' - they had scarcely time to throw up more than a little earth to take cover behind. The noise now is Hell. Cannot find any Signallers of my Station - I will look for my Captain, Margolin, they are sure to be with him. There was no time to wait for orders; I must work on my own initiative - in any case the Captain will want a Signaller with him. Now some of the chaps are getting it - groans and screams everywhere, calls for ammunition and stretcher bearers, though how the latter are going to carry stretchers along such precipitous and sandy slopes beats me. Now commencing to take some of the dead out of the trenches; this is horrible; I wonder how long I can stand it.
'Signaller' - I just had to get a message to Headquarters - it had been raining a little, I found it almost impossible to keep my foothold, I kept slipping down all the way along. Colonel Pope seemed very worried and tired; have just heard that our Signal Lieutenant Wilton and Sergeant Major Emmett badly wounded in abdomen. Turks playing funny bugle calls all night long and yelling out, always in English. Bursts of fire from our men - officers doing all they can to stop it as we are getting short of ammunition - more bugling by Turks, makes me think of a Cairene Bazar; the idea of the bugles is supposed to impress us - the Turks would be vexed if they knew what we really thought. I have been running dispatches all night and in between endeavouring to make a dug-out -I couldn't lift the pick so had to use my trenching tool. Wonder what I am going to do for rations - I had to throw mine out, it was too heavy for me to carry. Feeling very weak and tired...
....Still fighting furiously - now all signalers have been wiped out of A and B Companies except myself. Just had a shell each side of my dug-out - I felt in a real panic as it is a most horrible sensation. Our ships have missed the range and sent eleven shells into us in a minute; I do not think anyone has been hit - the Turks' trenches are so near ours that it is marvelous how accurately the ships find the range. For three days and nights I have been going without a stop, occasionally having a go at my dug-out which, up to the present, is nothing more than a hole - the continual cry of 'Signaller' never seems to cease. While going up to the Captain's dug-out with a message from Headquarters I nearly got pipped by a machine-gun; fortunately one of the lads pulled me down into safety - I don't seem to feel it's any use worrying; if I'm to get hit nothing can stop it, and to keep dodging down into dug-outs gets on my nerves - I can't stand being cramped into small spaces. The Turks have now got hold of the names of our officers and keep giving messages purporting to emulate from said officers. All night long the Turks have been harassing us heavily - ever and anon 'Enemy advancing on the right,' 'Enemy advancing on the left' - all messages now have to be whispered along the line. There is a pale moon - any minute we are expecting the enemy to rush the trenches - we have no reserves.
[Ellis Silas, Crusading at Anzac, A.D. 1915, London. 1916]
Sourced from http://www.anzacsite.gov.au/1landing/s_diary1915april.html
Somehow, Cyril survived through all of this carnage and mayhem. However, on the 26th May he was wounded in action by shrapnel in his right leg and evacuated to the No. 1 General Hospital in Heliopolis, Egypt. On the 15th June he was discharged and rejoined his unit at the front, but just over a month later he was back in hospital with a bout of Influenza that laid him up for two weeks, rejoining his unit on the 7th August. At this time the 1st Division had just commenced the Battle of Lone Pine which was conducted over the 6th-9th August. The Autralians suffered an estimated 2,277 casualties during that conflict, and the opposing Turkish forces between 5000-6000 killed or wounded.
A photograph exists of Cyril and six of his comrades on the ground at Gallipoli laying telephone cable The men are holding the cable which is being dispensed from a roll mounted on a small handcart. This photograph was taken sometime before the 10th August 1915 as the Sapper immediately to Cyril's left in the photo, Spr. Thomas Edison Corry, died on that date from wounds received, most likely at the Battle of Lone Pine in the preceding few days.
On the 1st December 1915 Cyril was promoted to the rank of 2nd Corporal. This was a temporary rank necessitated by the evacuation of 2nd Corporal Burns who was sick, but he was confirmed in the rank on the 12th January 1916. He rose rapidly after that attaining the rank of Corporal on the 28th February 1916 and just over a year later on the 20th March 1917 he attained the rank of Sergeant.
The Australian 1st Division left Gallipoli in early 1916 and Cyril embarked on the Grampian on about the 21st March bound for France, disembarking at Marseilles on the 28th March 1916.
On the 20th August he was sent to England for training, arriving at the Royal Engineers Training Depot at Hitchin in Hertfordshire. He would spend his 21st Birthday here. His training would continue until the 21st March 1917 when he set off for France, the day after attaining the rank of Sergeant and assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Signal Company, Army Engineers.
On the 18th May Sgt Cyril Lawrence received a severe shell wound in the back during fighting in France. He was treated at the 34th Casualty Clearing Station which was located in La Chapelette, near Peronne about 20 kms to the east of Amiens. He died on the 23rd May 1917. In his last days he received visits from the Chaplain of the 34th CCS, Rev. John M. Forbes who wrote to his mother, Mary, after Cyril's death.
Cyril was buried at the La Chapelette British Cemetery, Plot I, Row E, Grave No.7.
Sgt Cyril Lawrence was the recipient of the 1914/15 Star, No. 12762; the British War Medal No. 4950; and The Victory Medal, No. 11894.
Cyril's death was announced in The Argus on 9th June 1917 as follows:
LAWRENCE -- KIlled in action, somewhere in France, on the 23rd May, Sergeant Cyril Lawrence, dearly beloved eldest son of Mary and the late Harry Lawrence, "Selukwe", 20 Staley Street, Brunswick; loving brother of Jean (Mrs Reitschell), Nellie, Florrie, and Aubrie, after two years and 10 months service in Egypt, Gallipoli, and France, of the First Contingent, aged 21 years and 8 months; late of Harrietville.
Another Anzac hero
Called for higher service
---(Inserted by his loving mother, sisters, and brother)
In February of 1918 Mary Lawrence received a parcel of her son's belongings. In the parcel was an Identity Disc, 2 Handkerchiefs, a Fountain Pen, a wallet, Whistle, a Silver Locket, a coin, Letters, a Photo and a Photo Button.