ANZAC Centenary 2014-2018: Sharing Victoria's Stories

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WWI Stories – Athol and Cyril McPherson


Mrs Fay McPherson shares the story of family member Athol Cluny McPherson and his brother Cyril who served in the Great War.

Athol Cluny McPherson was born at “Nangeela” in Casterton, Victoria in 1881. He had five brothers and two sisters, and it is interesting to note that his mother was Maria Eliza Antill, of the famous Antill family. Athol’s great grandfather Major Henry Colden Antill, was the aide-de-camp to Governor Macquarie. Athol was a single man, a farmer and he lived on the family farm at Horsham in Victoria. He was known for his immense strength and it was said he was as strong as two other men.

Athol joined the AIF at the outbreak of the War on 15th August, 1914. He sailed on the “Orvieto” and was first stationed at Mena Camp in Egypt before being deployed to Gallipoli with the 5th Battalion. He was killed in action on 19th August, 1915 and is buried in Shrapnel Valley Cemetery, Gallipoli, Turkey.

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Approximately 90 letters that he wrote home to his family are held in the archives of the Australian War Memorial. The majority of his letters were written from Mena Camp in Egypt and describe his enlistment, the voyage to Egypt, the excitement of travel and the mood of optimism in 1914 that the war would soon be over.

McPherson MemorialOn hearing of his death his younger brother Cyril Sutherland McPherson (pictured below) also enlisted in the AIF. He first saw action in the Battle of Messines in June 1917 and was subsequently commissioned.  He was later severely wounded at Paschendale with a bullet through his lung.  He was taken to the nearest hospital unit and placed with all the other casualties.  A doctor came along the row to see who could be saved and who would not survive.  He checked Cyril over, and said “He won’t live”.  Cyril lay there all night and next morning when the orderlies came to check on the casualties once more, they found Cyril was still breathing, so he was then attended to, and lived to tell the tale.  Because of his wounds, he was unable to rejoin his unit and was invalided home in 1918.

Athol Cluny McPherson (pictured below right) is the Uncle of my husband Gerald Murray McPherson. Gerald’s father Fred Waldron McPherson was Athol’s brother. The brothers “drew straws” to see who would enlist and who would stay home to run the farm, and Athol drew the short straw.

CyrilAthol Cluny McPherson









In an amazing coincidence Stephen May, Cyril’s Grandson, found that his paternal grandfather, Sapper John William May (No. 34) had also sailed on the HMAT Orvieto on 21 October 1914 having found his name on the Orvieto manifest. So both his grandfather and  his great uncle were on the same ship, going to the Great War!