Just started a new project at the National Museum, working on the museum’s show to open in May 2015 looking at the relationship between the homefront in Australia during World War One and the war front in Europe and the Middle East. Very interesting project, balancing the social pressures and changes going on in Australia at that time with the overwhelming emotion of war which was the background of just about everything happening in the country at the time.
One of the fascinating stories we’re looking into is that of Australia’s only ever gold medalist to have died in combat – Cecil Healy – medalist at the Stockholm games in 1912, the person credited with being the first to use the ‘Australian’ crawl in race events, life-saving pioneer and swimming writer. His potted history is below.
CECIL HEALY, OLYMPIAN AND AIF OFFICER Cecil Patrick Healy (1881-1918) was born in Sydney and completed his secondary schooling with the Jesuits at St Aloysius College, Milsons Point. He was a prominent surf lifesaver and a founding member of the Manly Surf Life Saving Club, as well as receiving a number of awards from the Royal Humane Society for rescues he performed in the harbour and nearby beaches. Cecil represented Australia in swimming at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden where he won gold as a member of the men’s freestyle team and silver for the 100-metre freestyle event.
Cecil enlisted in the AIF in November 1915 and went to France where he served as a Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant in the 2nd Division Base Depot at Le Havre. In December 1917 Cecil was transferred to the officer training unit at Cambridge University where he completed a six-month course before being commissioned in May 1918. He was then allocated to the 19th Infantry Battalion as a platoon commander and took part on the Australian Corps’ advance eastwards from Villers-Bretonneux towards the final German positions on the Hindenberg Line. Cecil was killed in action at Sword Wood near the Somme River on 29 August 1918 while leading his platoon in the opening phase of the battle for Mont St Quentin. He is now buried in Assevillers New British Cemetery, about 10 kilometres west of Peronne.