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Cobb, Wilton Winstanley (Bill) (1917–1942)

by Margaret Pullar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Wilton Winstanley Cobb (1917-1942), by unknown photographer

Wilton Winstanley Cobb (1917-1942), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 022835

Wilton Winstanley (Bill) Cobb (1917-1942), army officer and grazier, was born on 6 June 1917 at Albion, Brisbane, second child of Frederick Cobb, a grazier from New Zealand, and his Queensland-born wife Hannah Belle, née Lloyd. Educated by correspondence and at All Souls' School, Charters Towers, Wilton completed the junior public examination in 1932. Known as 'Bill', he worked on his father's station, Frensham, near Winton, and on other properties in the district. He was commissioned lieutenant in the Militia on 19 August 1939.

Transferring to the Australian Imperial Force on 1 May 1940, Cobb joined the 2nd/15th Battalion. On 29 June that year he married Cynthia Mary Molle at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Southport. Two days later he was sent to Darwin, but was back in Brisbane for three months before he embarked from Sydney on 26 December, bound for Egypt. After training in Palestine, in March 1941 his battalion moved to Marsa Brega, Libya. Cobb took part in the withdrawal eastwards, arrived at Tobruk in April and was promoted captain that month.

On 16 May he organized and led a patrol deep into enemy territory, capturing a machine-gun position, inflicting casualties and taking a prisoner; he was awarded a commander-in-chief's card. During the five weeks (June-July) that the 2nd/15th was under fire at the Salient, his personal example 'infused . . . confidence in his men which maintained their morale at a high level and cultivated an aggressive spirit'. Cobb's planning of night-operations assisted his company to advance its line some 500 yards (457 m). For his leadership over the period March to July, he was awarded the Military Cross. From August to October he attended the Middle East Tactical School, then returned to the battalion as second-in-command of 'A' Company. Having been deployed (from late 1941) in Palestine and Syria, the 2nd/15th occupied positions at Tel el Eisa, near El Alamein, Egypt, in August 1942.

On the night of 4-5 August Cobb took a fighting patrol of twelve men behind enemy lines. About 1500 yards (1372 m) north of Point 25 (Baillieu's Bluff), the party was challenged and went to ground. When some Germans inadvertently disclosed the location of their nearby post, Cobb attacked. A bullet from a machine-gun hit him in the leg, but he silenced the weapon with a grenade. Attempting to withdraw with a prisoner, he was wounded in the arm by an enemy gunner who also killed the prisoner. Cobb shot his adversary, removed identifying material from the dead man and, suffering from loss of blood, retired with the help of his troops. He was awarded a Bar to his M.C. Evacuated to hospital, he sent a telegram to his mother: 'Nothing serious. Don't worry'.

A tall, lean man, with a cheerful, outgoing disposition, Cobb was a quick thinker and a natural leader. He rejoined his battalion in September as 'A' Company commander, but was killed in action on 23 October 1942, the first day of the battle of El Alamein, and was buried in the local war cemetery. His wife survived him; they had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (Canb, 1966)
  • Winton Herald, 30 Aug 1939, 12 Aug, 11 Nov 1942
  • Age (Melborune), 29 Aug 1942
  • Argus (Melbourne), 18 Sept 1943
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Pullar, 'Cobb, Wilton Winstanley (Bill) (1917–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cobb-wilton-winstanley-bill-9773/text17271, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 19 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Wilton Winstanley Cobb (1917-1942), by unknown photographer

Wilton Winstanley Cobb (1917-1942), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 022835