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Cawthorne, Cecil Hamilton (Jim) (1906–1985)

by Anthony Staunton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Cecil Hamilton (Jim) Cawthorne (1906-1985), soldier, was born Leslie Allen Perrot Cawthorne on 1 April 1906 at Blackburn, Lancashire, England, son of James Radcliffe Cawthorne, master boot and shoemaker and town postman, and his wife Julia Sophia, née Bourne. Raised and educated in England, he went to New Zealand before joining his younger brother in South Australia in 1926.

Later their parents also migrated. During the Depression Leslie carried a swag and travelled the bush. He was a railway employee from 1937. Initially rejected by the army on medical grounds, he used a deceased brother’s name, Cecil Hamilton Cawthorne, and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 17 June 1940. Henceforward he was known as `Jim’.

Joining the newly formed 2/43rd Battalion, Cawthorne was promoted to sergeant on 28 December 1940. Next day he embarked for the Middle East. After training in Palestine, the battalion, part of the 9th Division, deployed to Tobruk, Libya, which was besieged from April 1941. On the night of 27–28 July Cawthorne’s patrol, seeking a German prisoner for interrogation, encountered an enemy working party some 1500 yards (1372 m) from the Australian lines. The patrol went to ground and awaited its approach. At 10 yards (9 m), Cawthorne stood up, approached the Germans and called for their surrender. They opened fire and wounded him in two places, then broke and ran after coming under Australian fire. Cawthorne pursued the Germans, killed one, and captured a corporal. Major General (Sir) Leslie Morshead, elated, recorded: `a particularly good effort by a fighting patrol of the 43rd Battalion’. Cawthorne was awarded the Military Medal. He was in hospital until 19 August, then rejoined his battalion, which continued to serve at Tobruk until evacuated in October.

In July 1942 the 9th Division was in action in Egypt. Cawthorne was a platoon sergeant in the 2/43rd attack on Ruin Ridge on the 17th and ten days later commanded the platoon covering the start line for the 2/28th attack. As an acting warrant officer, class two, from July (substantive in October), he was for many weeks company sergeant major and on 17 August he volunteered to help his company commander search for a man missing from a patrol. For his actions in July-October he was awarded a Bar to his MM, the only such award to an Australian in the Middle East and the first of just five to Australians in World War II. Commissioned as a lieutenant on 22 January 1943 he returned to Australia with his battalion in February. He served on the Huon Peninsula, New Guinea, in 1943-44 and at Labuan and British North Borneo in 1945.

Demobilised on 18 April 1947, Cawthorne worked as a physiotherapist in Adelaide. At St Luke’s Church of England on 18 September 1948 he married Alison Mary Peake (d.1960), a civil servant; they had no children and separated after several years. Employed for a time as a manufacturing chemist, by the mid-1960s he had set up as an antique and art dealer at Norwood. He was a small man with a large beard and a sparkle in his eye. A raconteur who elaborated his stories, he was intelligent, well read in esoteric and historical subjects, and interested in herbal medicines. He died on 1 September 1985 at Parkside and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Combe et al, The Second 43rd Australian Infantry Battalion 1940-1946 (1972)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (1987)
  • series B883, item SX5399 (National Archives of Australia)
  • AWM76, item B93, AWM119, items A18, A62 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Anthony Staunton, 'Cawthorne, Cecil Hamilton (Jim) (1906–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 April 2021.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2021

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Cawthorne, Leslie Allen Perrott

1 April 1906
Blackburn, Lancashire, England


1 September 1985
Parkside, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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