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Cecil Robert Pye (1890–1917)

by J. B. Hopley

This article was published:

Cecil Robert Arthur Pye (1890-1917), soldier and medical practitioner, was born on 13 July 1890 at Windsor, New South Wales, son of Robert Adam Pye, pharmacist, and his wife Esther, née Dunston, both New South Wales born. Educated at Windsor Superior Public School and at Barker College, Hornsby, Pye matriculated in 1905 and 1906 before entering the faculty of medicine at the University of Sydney. After graduating M.B., Ch.M., in 1911 he served as a resident medical officer at (Royal) Newcastle Hospital. As a ship's surgeon he travelled to China and Japan in 1912, and then to Britain and Europe where he gained postgraduate medical experience. Popular at school and university, Pye had some musical ability, playing the piano well and teaching himself the flute, concertina and bugle. According to family tradition he had a photographic memory.

In March 1909 Pye had been commissioned second lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, New South Wales, reaching the rank of captain in the 16th Battalion in 1913. He returned to Australia shortly after the outbreak of World War I and was appointed as a captain and company commander in the 17th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, on 5 May 1915. A week later he embarked for Egypt. In August he was promoted major and landed on Gallipoli where he served in the second attack on Hill 60 and at Quinn's Post before being evacuated to hospital in October, suffering from dysentery.

After convalescence in England Pye returned to Australia in February 1916 to take command of a battalion. A heart condition led to further sick leave and convalescence before he resumed duty as commandant at the Newcastle army camp. He left Australia again in August with reinforcements for the 17th Battalion which he rejoined on the Western Front in December. He was appointed temporary lieutenant-colonel a week later and commanded the battalion until February 1917 while it was in the Bapaume sector. During the Australian assault on Malt Trench in March, Pye organized and conducted the attack which retook Layton Alley, for which he received the Distinguished Service Order.

Pye was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 19 March to command the 19th Battalion. On 15 April it participated in the defeat of an early morning attack by four German divisions at Lagnicourt and on 3 May it took part in the 2nd battle of Bullecourt. Pye was mentioned in dispatches in June. Transferred to Flanders, the battalion served at Westhoek Ridge in September during the 3rd battle of Ypres. On 4 October 1917 the unit went into action at Broodseinde Ridge and in the intense shelling of the British lines Pye was fatally wounded when visiting his forward companies.

Short, slightly built, prematurely balding, Pye had a kindly disposition, but was a shrewd judge of men. A stickler for discipline, intolerant of inefficiency, and quick to make decisions, he was a calm and inspiring leader, very much beloved by his men. The official historian Charles Bean, described him as one of the youngest and most capable commanding officers in his division.

Pye was buried near Ypres, in the Belgian Battery Corner cemetery. He was unmarried. His brother Eric John Dunston served with the A.I.F. at Gallipoli and in France.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1917 (Syd, 1933)
  • G. E. Hall and A. Cousins (eds), Book of Remembrance of the University of Sydney in the War 1914-1918 (Syd, 1939)
  • K. W. Mackenzie, The Story of the Seventeenth Battalion A.I.F., in the Great War, 1914-1918 (Syd, 1946)
  • London Gazette, 11, 26 May, 1 June 1917
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 3 Nov 1917
  • Hermes (Sydney), June 1918
  • Windsor and Richmond Gazette, 14 Jan 1916, 18 May, 1, 26 June, 28 Sept, 19, 26 Oct 1917
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Apr 1916, 12 May, 21 June, 2, 18 Oct 1917, 3, 14 Jan 1918
  • Sun (Sydney), 8 Mar 1918
  • war diaries, 17th Battalion and 19th Battalion, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • University of Sydney Archives
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

J. B. Hopley, 'Pye, Cecil Robert (1890–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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