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03 January 2011

Lieutenant Cecil Vernon Wickens of Blackwood

Cecil Wickens was a son of Walter Henry Wickens, and was born in Blackwood in 1889. Cecil attended Coromandel Valley and Sturt Street Public Schools and Adelaide High School, spending three years in the senior cadets. In 1906 at the age of 17, he started with the Australian Mutual Provident Society as a junior clerk. Before the war he was active in the Blackwood, Belair and Coromandel Boys’ Club, the Blackwood Football Club and the Coromandel 1st XI cricket team. He was also one of the great 'Big Three' ruckmen of the Sturt Football Club.

Cecil was one of the first to join up from the Blackwood district, enlisting on 19 August 1914, only 15 days after Great Britain declared war on Germany. He joined Ack Squadron of the 3rd Light Horse Regiment which formed at Morphettville and following his promotion to Lance Corporal on 13 October 1914, embarked for Egypt with the rest of the Regiment a week later.

The 3rd Light Horse initially deployed to Egypt and from 9 December 1914 until 9 May 1915 was engaged in training at Maadi and Heliopolis. On 12 May 1915 the Regiment, having left their horses behind in Egypt, landed at ANZAC. Within a week they were defending Pope's Hill against the massive Turkish assault of 18/19 May, and during the August offensive attacked from Quinn's Post. On 5 September 1915, Cecil was promoted to Sergeant and was simultaneously appointed as acting Regimental Sergeant Major. On 13 December 1915, the Regiment evacuated from Gallipoli and disembarked at Alexandria and returned to their previous camp at Heliopolis between Christmas and New Year's Eve, becoming part of the Western Frontier Force. In March 1916, Cecil was promoted simultaneously to Warrant Officer Classes Two then One to formalise his appointment as Regimental Sergeant Major. In May 1916, Cecil, along with many other members of the Regiment, took an opportunity to transfer to the newly formed 4th Australian Division Artillery, currently training in Egypt in preparation for deployment to France and Belgium. After a stint at the Artillery Training Depot, he embarked for the United Kingdom in early August 1916 where he joined the 21st Field Artillery Brigade.

Following completion of his training, Cecil joined the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade headquarters in France in April 1917, and was promoted in the field to Second Lieutenant on 8 October 1917. Less than a month later he was severely gassed, and had barely returned to duty in mid-December when he was transferred to a training depot in the United Kingdom where he spent the rest of the war, including a promotion to Lieutenant in August 1918. He returned to Australia in January 1919 and his appointment as an officer was terminated in April 1919.

After the war, Cecil married Vera and returned to work at the AMP Society where he took over the role of new business manager in the South Australian state office. Over the next few years, Vera gave birth to two sons (Ian and Peter) and three daughters (Peg, Patricia and Judith). In 1935, he was transferred to the Western Australian office as company accountant and the family lived in Nedlands. During the Second World War, Cecil joined the 1st Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps between 1942 and 1944. His son Ian served in the RAAF during the war. Cecil was promoted acting Manager of the Perth office in 1945, before being promoted to manage the South Australian office in 1945, when the family lived in Tusmore. Cecil was a keen golfer and bowler, and a member of the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron.

Cecil died on 15 December 1946 aged 57 years, after a short illness, and was buried at Centennial Park. His name is inscribed on the Blackwood Memorial and the Sturt Football Club Honour Board kept in the Unley Museum.

Photograph: Courtesy of the State Records of South Australia