Maltese-born Cyril John Bird followed his father as a career soldier, joining the army before 1911 in India. He left England in March 1915 to fight in Gallipoli and was killed in action there in the Second Battle of Krithia in May 1915.
Cyril was born in Vittoriosa in Malta on 5th February 1891, the son of Herbert Reuben Bird and Maria Regisoia Cacoprade. His parents had married in Floriana, Malta on 11th July 1889. Cyril’s father had been born in Sandon in 1866. Cyril’s siblings were William Herbert Bird (born 1882) and Edward Bird (1896-1942).
Cyril’s father was a career soldier who had joined the Essex Regiment as an 18 year-old in 1883. After serving in England he arrived in Gibraltar in November 1883, Egypt in February 1884, Malta in February 1887, and India in October 1892, before leaving the army in 1913 after 30 years.
It was while the family was in India that Cyril followed in his father’s footsteps and enlisted into the army at Madras as Private 8690. The 1911 census recorded Cyril, aged 20, a Private, serving with A Company of the 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment at Roberts Barracks in Quetta, Balichistan in India. Cyril’s brother William was also recorded by that census serving in the army, with the 1st Battalion of the Border Regiment.
Cyril later served as Lance Corporal 9356 in the 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment. The battalion was part of the 88th Brigade in the 29th Division and had been in Mauritius at the outbreak of the war. It returned to England in December 1914.
In March 1915 Cyril’s battalion was based in Warwickshire. It moved to Avonmouth on 21st March 1915 and embarked on S.S. Caledonia on the first part of the journey to capture the Gallipoli peninsular in Turkey from Turkish forces.
The battalion, including Cyril arrived in Alexandria, Egypt on 2nd April 1915 and after a few days in Egypt sailed to Mudros Harbour, which was reached on 16th April 1915. There they practised landing techniques, before setting sail for Gallipoli on the evening of 24th April 1915. They arrived off Cape Helles just before dawn the following day, and left their mother ships to land in smaller boats at ‘W’ Beach on the peninsula's south-western tip.
After landing the battalion, including Cyril, moved forward and took part in an successful afternoon attack on Turkish forces on Hill 138 with the 4th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment. Enemy counter-attacks during the night were repulsed. The following day was spent consolidating those positions prior to an advance towards the inland village of Krithia which began in the late afternoon of 27th April 1915. That evening the battalion entrenched two and a half miles from the village. The following morning an attempt was made to capture the village from the Turks, but progress was halted a mile from it by enemy forces and the battalion was driven back to the trenches that had been
BIRD, CYRIL JOHN,
Lance Corporal, 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment
vacated that morning. The battalion lost 14 killed, 76 wounded and 33 missing, many from machine gun fire in what was later known as the First Battle of Krithia.
The last two days of April were spent reorganising and on 1st May 1915 the battalion went into reserve at Morto Bay. That night the battalion, and the whole of the Allied front line was subject to a heavy attack by Turkish forces which was eventually repulsed. Cyril’s battalion suffered 14 killed, 31 wounded and five missing. The dead included the commander of the battalion.
The 1st Essex went into reserve on the evening of 5th May 1915, but the following day was ordered to move forward to occupy a ridge one mile south-west of Krithia as part of an unsuccessful attempt to capture the village, later known as the Second Battle of Krithia. Over the next three days the battalion lost five officers wounded, 15 other ranks killed and 137 wounded. Among the dead was Cyril who was killed in action on the 8th May 1915. Two other Chelmsford men, Thomas James Wilkinson and Herbert Barnard died in the same battle.
Cyril has no known grave and is commemorated at Helles Memorial in Turkey, on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford and by the Chelmsford Parish Great War Memorial in Chelmsford Cathedral. He was entitled to the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal.
The 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment was eventually evacuated from Gallipoli in January 1916 to Egypt, before sailing to fight in France in March 1916.
Cyril’s father died in India in 1922.