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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cherry, Percy Herbert (1895–1917)

by Rex Clark

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Percy Herbert Cherry (1895-1917), by unknown photographer

Percy Herbert Cherry (1895-1917), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, H06507A

Percy Herbert Cherry (1895-1917), soldier, was born on 4 June 1895 at Drysdale, Victoria, son of John Gawley Cherry and his wife Elizabeth, née Russel, both Victorian-born. When he was 7 the family moved to Tasmania and took up an apple orchard near Cradoc. Percy attended the local state school until he was 13 and was then privately tutored. He played the cornet in the Franklin brass band, sang in the Anglican church choir and belonged to the local cadet corps. He worked with his father and became an expert apple-packer, winning a championship title in case-making at Launceston Fruit Show. In 1913 he was commissioned in the 93rd Infantry Regiment.

On 15 March 1915 Cherry enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted to the 26th Battalion; he was considered too young for an A.I.F. commission and he sailed for Egypt in June as a quartermaster sergeant. In August he was made a company sergeant major and next month reached Gallipoli where he served at Taylor's Hollow and Russell's Top. He was wounded on 1 December and evacuated; a week later he was promoted second lieutenant. Cherry remained in Egypt until March 1916 when, after attending a machine-gun school, he was transferred to the 7th Machine-Gun Company and sent to France. He commanded the company's 1st Battery at Fleurbaix, Messines and on the Somme until 5 August when he was wounded in a duel with a German officer at Pozières. After sniping at each other from their shell-holes both officers fired together and both were wounded, the German mortally. When Cherry went to him he was given a package of letters which he promised to post; his opponent's dying words were 'And so it ends'. Cherry was promoted lieutenant on 25 August and resumed duty on the Somme in November; next month he was made a temporary captain and transferred back to the 26th Battalion as a company commander. Unpopular at first, for he was 'a little martinet on parade', he was soon to gain the respect of his men for his leadership in action.

Cherry's rank was confirmed in February 1917 and at Warlencourt on 1-2 March he took part in an attack on Malt Trench. When he and his men found a small gap in the enemy wire, he rushed two machine-gun posts, capturing one single-handed and turning the gun on the fleeing Germans before being wounded himself. He was to receive the Military Cross for this gallant episode, though the award was not announced until the day of his death and he never knew of it. On 26 March 1917 his battalion was ordered to storm the village of Lagnicourt. Cherry's company encountered fierce opposition and after all the other officers had been killed or wounded, he 'carried on with care and determination … and cleared the village of the enemy'. The Germans counter-attacked and the battle raged all day long. Though wounded in the leg, Cherry remained at his post and in the late afternoon was killed by a shell; he was buried in Quéant Road cemetery, Buissy. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, an honour for which his battalion commander had recommended him for 'bravery beyond description'. He was unmarried.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916-17 (Syd, 1929, 1933)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • London Gazette, 24 Apr, 11 May 1917
  • Reveille (Sydney), May 1968
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 May 1917
  • War Diaries, 7th Machine-Gun Company, and 26th Battalion AIF (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Rex Clark, 'Cherry, Percy Herbert (1895–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Percy Herbert Cherry (1895-1917), by unknown photographer

Percy Herbert Cherry (1895-1917), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, H06507A