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Eltham Roll of Honour: Capt. Studley Manston Gahan, 17 May 1941, Tobruk, Libya

GAHAN, Studley Manston, Capt., VX48379
(KIA 17 May 1941, Tobruk, Libya)
Vic. Paybook photograph, taken on enlistment, of VX48379 Captain Studley Manston Gahan (NAA)

Studley Manston Gahan was born in Ivanhoe, 8 December 1913, the son of Walter Ernest and Alice Miriam Gahan. By 1924, the family had moved to “Derril,” Eltham, on the western side of Main Road near the present-day site of Shillinglaw Cottage where they remained till about 1960 when Walter died. The house was demolished in 1968 during the widening of Main Road.

Gahan home, ‘Derril,’ (left) c. 1905 and (right) March 1968 immediately prior to demolition

Educated at Eltham High School and Melbourne Grammar, in April 1937 Studley was engaged to Kathleen Elsie (Kitty), daughter of Lieut. Colonel and Mrs C.A. Mitchell of Cowra Avenue, Mildura. Studley was employed by the Bank of New South Wales, stationed previously at Preston, Mildura and Melbourne offices. He was living at Caulfield when he enlisted 16 December 1936 and allocated to the 57/60 Battalion. He received a commission as Lieutenant on 15 September 1937. On 21 April 1938 he and Kitty married at Melbourne Grammar School Chapel. He was promoted to Captain, 28 March 1940.

On 1 August 1940 Studley was posted to the 2/23 Battalion, A.I.F., embarking 16 November 1940 per Strathmore for the Middle East. The Battalion arrived in Egypt mid-December where it was reassigned from the 7th Division to the 9th Division in early 1941. Shortly after they were sent to Cyrenaica in Libya. A German-Italian offensive led by the ‘Desert Fox’, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel of the German Wehrmacht drove the forces to the port of Tobruk where the 2/23 formed part of the garrison during the Siege of Tobruk, which lasted 241 days from April 10. These men were nicknamed by Rommel as the ‘Desert Rats of Tobruk’, something that was to become a source of pride amongst the Australians in their defiance of the German military might. A policy of ‘making the besiegers the besieged’ involved undertaking numerous and aggressive raids into German lines by small groups of men. On May 17, Studley led 12 men on such a raid on a German defensive outpost (Scates 2013). War Diary records note Gahan was last seen at 07.30 hours. Six of his men were wounded but he continued to push on to the next position. He was never seen again. On May 28, 1941, Studley was reported ‘Missing’ as of May 17th. On 9 June, his status was revised to ‘Missing Believed Prisoner’ and on May 3rd, to ‘Killed in Action’. His body was never recovered.

Studley’s younger brother Neil followed him into banking and the Army. Lt. Gahan departed Australia with 2/29 Australian Infantry Battalion for the Malayan campaign. Having initially been reported missing, he rejoined his unit just two days before Singapore fell.  He became a prisoner of war of the Japanese, alongside many other members of the 2/29 and was interned at Changi and sent to work on the Burma-Thai Railway as part of “F Force”. Neil survived the war and retuned to Australia, his final rank, Captain, like brother Studley.

Scates (2013) writes of Kitty Gahan’s efforts to be heard as a war widow. She was one of a select few to be invited to travel after persistent requests on behalf of the War Widows Guild to be part of the official Australian party to attend the dedication of the War Graves Commission cemetery at El Alamein, Egypt, in 1954. He also observes that while standing beside a grave to secure that finality of loss had no equal, from the 1940s, memorial funds were generally put towards useful and enduring purposes and less towards sponsoring pilgrimages, a more common demand after the Great War.

The State Library of Victoria holds the Papers of Kathleen Gahan, 1929-1982, which includes a scrapbook of correspondence, photographs, postcards, press cuttings and other ephemera relating to Kitty Gahan’s visit. Scates describes Kitty’s pilgrimage and this scrapbook of poignant material, not just as a souvenir, but as Kitty’s own personal memorial to her husband. The final image in the scrapbook being Studley’s name, etched in cool white stone in the desert, on a panel to the missing.

The following notices were published in The Age newspaper in memory of Studley: –

The Age, Saturday, 9 May 1942, p2

  • GAHAN. – Captain Studley Manston Gahan, killed in action May 17, 1941, dearly loved husband of Kitty.
  • GAHAN. – Captain Studley Manston Gahan, VX48379, killed in action May 17, 1941, beloved eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Gahan, of Derril, Eltham, and brother of Neil (2nd A.I.F.), Lorrainer, Peter, and Kevin, aged 27 years.

The Argus, Wednesday, 17 May 1944, p2

  • GAHAN. – In proud and loving remembrance of Captain Studley Manston Gahan, 2/23rd Batt., who made the supreme sacrifice at Tobruk on May 17, 1941.

The Argus, Wednesday, 17 May 1946, p2

  • GAHAN. – In fond and loving memory of Captain Studley Manston Gahan, 2/23rd Batt., who gave his life at Tobruk on May 17, 1941. – At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember.

The Argus, Wednesday, 17 May 1950, p11

  • GAHAN. – In loving memory of Captain Studley Manston Gahan, and comrades of B Coy., 2/23rd Battalion., who made the supreme sacrifice, May 17, 1941, Tobruk.

Studley is commemorated on Column 91, Alamein Memorial, Egypt.

2/23 Bn, Australian Infantry.
17th May 1941. Age 27.
Son of Walter Ernest and Alice Miriam Gahan; husband of Kathleen Elsie Gahan, of St. Kilda, Victoria, Australia.

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“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

  • Sgt. George Williams
  • Sgt. Reginald E. Sims
  • L/Cpl. George Moore
  • L/Cpl. Henry G. Philips
  • L/Cpl. John C. Bell
  • Pte. Geoffrey Grant
  • Pte. George Sommerville
  • Pte. George Brown
  • Pte. John Brown
  • Pte. William Bond
  • Pte. Thomas Cameron
  • Pte. Alfred Cassells
  • Pte. Robert Meadows
  • Pte. Walter Mosley
  • Pte. James Pryor
  • Pte. William Prior
  • Pte. Edward Barrett
  • Pte. William Crellin
  • Pte. Henry Norman
  • Pte. Edward Bird
  • Pte. Arthur Brown
  • Pte. Roslyn Stevens
  • Pte. Herbert Creed
  • Pte. Charles Bromfield
  • Pte. Kenneth Sharp
  • Pte. Henry McAlary
  • Capt. S.M. Gahan
  • Plt. Off. D. Rutter
  • Flt. Off. D.H. Rutter
  • Flt. Sgt. S.M. Mclean
  • Flt. Sgt. L. Ingram
  • Sgt. C.D. Dunlop
  • Cpl. T. Feldbauer
  • Cpl. A.C. Clerke
  • Spr. G.E. Castledine
  • Pte. J. Butherway
  • Pte. K.F. Field

Soldiers of the Shire of Eltham remembered on the Eltham Roll of Honour for their supreme sacrifice; located in the Eltham War Memorial Hall

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The Eltham Roll of Honour: Second World War

Read the stories of all the men from the Shire of Eltham who sacrificed their lives in the Second World War and to whom the Eltham War Memorial is dedicated.