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“A tiny town in Flanders Fields, Belgium that sadly became a household name during the Great War, for all the wrong reasons. More than 450,000 casualties were counted for in only 100 days, including 38,000 Australians, for a gain of barely eight kilometres.” (from the webpage Flanders Fields 14-18)

One of the soldiers was a young man from Cooktown. His name was Robert Joseph Lyons.

Robert was born in Cooktown in 1892. His father Michael Lyons had arrived in Cooktown in February 1884 to take up the position of Town Clerk with the Cooktown Municipal Council. He was married to Mary Corser from a well-known family in Maryborough. Five children had been born before the move to Cooktown. Mary already had family here as her sister was married to Bartley Fahey, the sub-Collector of Customs from 1875 to 1885.  By 1893, the family was residing in Hope Street in a house named “Rockview”. Four more children had arrived, Robert being the last.

Robert was educated at St Mary’s Convent School in Helen Street and as a boarder at St Joseph’s College in Nudgee. Once he had passed his Queensland Public servant’s examinations he gained employment as the assistant  clerk of Petty Sessions in the Justice and Mines  Department in Cooktown. No doubt he would have spent this leisure time participating in all the opportunities available to young men in town at that time. Outings to Finch Bay, cricket matches at the Botanical Gardens, picnics at Aldebury on the railway line, shooting ducks at Keatings’ Lagoon, rowing across the river to North Shore, plus roller skating and dances at the Federal Hall.

Robert was 5ft 8” tall with blue eyes and brown hair. He had enlisted in the 47th Battalion on 8th May 1916. He had left Australia with the 8th Reinforcement and joined the Company in Belgium on 27th July 1917. He was shot through the head by a sniper while on outpost duty on the morning on August 8th and was carried back and buried in a soldier’s cemetery at a place called Derry House near Wytachaete, between Messines and Ypres.

His grave number is No 122.

He was twenty five years old.


Compiled by Marge Scully from documents held at the Cooktown Historical Society, the National Archives and the Australian War Memorial at Canberra.

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