Centenary of WW1; Kilmore Remembers: Leo Edward Cavanagh


Leo Edward Cavanagh was born in 1894 in Reedy Creek, the son of Charles Alexander and Emily Cavanagh (nee McManus). Sometimes his surname is spelt Kavanagh. Leo attended the Kilmore State School.

When Leo enlisted on November 10, 1914 in Melbourne he gave his next of kin his aunt, Mrs J Anderson of Kilmore. He joined 1st Reinforcements, 5th Battalion as a private. Somehow two enlistment forms were filled out and Leo was allocated two service numbers 2352 and 2783. Leo gave his age as 21 years and 1 month. It is likely he overstated his age by one year.

After training, Leo embarked at Melbourne on HMAT Borda on December 22, 1914, bound for Egypt, where he became seriously ill.  This resulted in him being returned to Melbourne on the Ceramic, arriving May 25, 1915.

After a period in hospital at Broadmeadows, Leo was transferred to 7th Reinforcement Company and embarked on HMAT Demosthenes on July 16, 1915, bound for Egypt where he rejoined the 5th Battalion. He served about 3 months on Gallipoli at Anzac Cove, including time at Rest Gully. On return to Egypt he transferred to the 57th Battalion in February 1916, then to 58th and in March 1916 to the 14th Field Artillery Brigade as a driver.

In June 1916 Leo left Alexandria for France where he saw action on the Western Front. He took two weeks leave in June 1917 in France and soon after he returned Leo became ill with P U O in July. This was short for pyrexia of unknown origin, probably as a result of being gassed. In late August he was transferred from the 5th General Hospital in Calais to the Reading War Hospital in England.

In October 1917 Leo went AWOL in London and as a result forfeited 4 days pay. However he was arrested by the civil police on October 24, 1917 and later convicted for assaulting two police constables at Milcombe Regis, Dorset. At a court hearing in Weymouth on December 26, he was sentenced to  prison for three months with pay forfeited for 92 days.  After leaving prison Leo sailed to Melbourne on the Marathon.

On return Leo was medically assessed in July 1918 and was found to have had an accident on a chaff cutter before enlistment, which resulted in a serious wound to his right wrist. This was rated “powerless right hand” and he was operated on August 7, then discharged medically unfit on November 6, 1918.

Leo was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His name is recorded on the Kilmore Shire Honour Roll in the Memorial Hall, and on the Kilmore State School Honour Roll.

The Kilmore Advertiser reported on 22 June 1918 that “Private Leo Cavanagh, who left Kilmore in December 1914, with the Australian Light Horse, returned home last week. He has been amongst some strenuous fighting, being at Gallipoli, and afterwards at Lemnos. From there, he was drafted to France, and has been in several engagements, notably at Possiers. It was here that he was disabled. His horse stumbled over a wire on the ground, throwing him into a shell trench, breaking his gas helmet, with the result that Private Cavanagh got a dose of the Hun gas. He managed to get back to the lines, but was invalided to England. The transport in which he came back in voyaged by way of America and through the Panama Canal, and the South Seas, a most interesting journey, which the returned soldier and his comrades enjoyed immensely.”

After the war Leo married Maude Webb in 1919 and they had three children. Leo died on September 3, 1973 at Healesville.

Rest Gully, Gallipoli (Source: – AWM-C01482)


Reproduced in the North Central Review, 9 February 2016

6 thoughts on “Centenary of WW1; Kilmore Remembers: Leo Edward Cavanagh”

  1. As one of Leo’s three granddaughters..I would like to relate a story he told me about the fact he had two military numbers. The first was that life at the time of signing up was pretty grim. He had been working as an agricultural farm labourer and there was a drought and not much work about. He enlisted because it would be one way of seeing the world. He found military camp unbearable and `shot through’. In the light of day he figured he might be in more trouble so reenlisted by moving his names around. It seemed to work. His post traumatic stress was pretty awful and Grandma relates him screaming out in the night. He was relegated to the spare bedroom. Although a shy man he came to life after a few drinks. He deplored the glorification of war and felt there was nothing to be honoured in the dreadful way that he and his mates were conned. He had great respect for the Turks and remembers the cease fires and how they shared a coffee together `then you had to go back and shoot them’.
    He worked as a linesman for the railways until he was 60 then spent many years as a cleaner for Ansett ANA then after 5 years got a job as a labourer. He never complained about his life, he lost his first daughter at 18 months and his son at 27 through suicide. He was brought up by his Aunt and his mother worked for her father in the Reedy Creek Pub as a barmaid. His eldest daughter died only in 2017 at 95 she would have loved to have seen him honoured in this way . Thank you Kilmore Historical Society for letting his story live.


    1. Many thanks Kate for your great story about your grandfather Leo. Would it be okay to publish what you have written in our quarterly newsletter? Or even in the North Central Review? I worked for the Dept of Veterans’ Affairs before I retired so I know a little about the conditions at war and the impact on those that volunteered.

      Vice President
      Kilmore Historical Society


      1. Hi Grahame, Of course I am a bit of a history buff myself I was trained as a History teacher. I find it sad that my grandmother had my grandfather sleeping in another bedroom most of his life as she stated that his nightmares were hard to put up with. PTSD was unheard of … my grandfather left a devout Catholic and returned a socialist…he was very dismissive of governments who sent their men to far off lands to fight wars that had nothing to do with Australia. On the other hand he was grateful to have survived and to have seen the world – he loved the little bit he saw of France..he boasted of eating horsemeat etc. He also would show us a bit of belly dancing – So delighted to contribute on any level and now the family are eager to get to Kilmore and explore more of his history. Thank You for your dedication to this historical site. Kate Chamberla


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s