Cyril Molloy was born in South Canterbury on 4 April 1889. He was educated at Waitaki Boys’ High School in Ōamaru, studied law at Otago University and as a talented rugby player, represented Otago.
Molloy was working as a law clerk in Westport when he enlisted as a corporal in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in 1916.
He quickly earned promotion to lieutenant, leaving New Zealand in September that year, and proceeding to France. There he joined the 1st Battalion, the Otago Regiment as a platoon commander.
Promoted to captain in March 1917, Molloy carried out valuable work prior to the Messines offensive, patrolling and reconnoitring no-man’s-land during the construction of a fighting trench between Allied and German lines.
At the Battle of Messines, Molloy commanded the 4th Otago Company – and was among the first wave of New Zealand troops to attack the German trenches in front of Messines village.
During the assault, Molloy suffered shrapnel wounds to his head and shoulder. Evacuated to the United Kingdom, he sent a letter to his mother describing his ordeal.
I got a bit of shrapnel in the shoulder and the wound is almost healed now. I also got hit in the back of the head – the bit of shrapnel somehow dodged my steel hat. I have had my head X-rayed three times and there is nothing in it. Of course, I mean shrapnel. I got a small cut in my ear – all right now – and the drum of my ear was perforated by the concussion of the shell, but is rapidly healing. When I look round and see some of the injured I begin to realise how lucky I was. It was a great day and I would not have missed the experience for anything.
Molloy went on to describe the battle.
We went ‘over the bags’ at 3.10 a.m., the big mines just going up on our left – a wonderful sight. The earth shook as great volumes of flames leapt from the earth. However, our barrage began almost simultaneously, so we did not wait to see more of the spectacle.
We gained our objectives without a great deal of resistance, the Hun almost without exception surrendering everywhere. They came out of the dugouts with their hands up shouting ‘Kamerad’.
There was little fight left among them. We ran into a couple of machine guns here and there, which caused us a few casualties. However, we soon fixed them.
Molloy recovered from his wounds and returned to France, where he rejoined the 1st Battalion, the Otago Regiment in time to take part in the Passchendaele attacks in October 1917.
He was killed in action on 12 October, leading the 14th South Otago Company during the New Zealand Division’s ill-fated attack on Bellevue Spur.
In January 1918, Molloy was awarded a posthumous Military Cross for gallantry. His mother, Bridget Molloy, received the following note from the New Zealand Minister of Defence, Sir James Allen, the following month.
Dear Madam, I have much pleasure in informing you that the Officer above-mentioned, of whom you are the nominated next-of-kin, has been awarded the Military Cross, for gallantry on the field of action.
I sincerely regret that he was not spared to receive personally such a coveted decoration.
Sir James Allen
Mrs Molloy also received letters of sympathy from her son’s commanding officers. Brigadier-General William Braithwaite, commander of 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade, wrote:
He was one of our most brilliant officers. He did not know the meaning of fear. He was absolutely adored by his men, who would follow him anywhere. He was one of the greatest losses suffered by the New Zealand Division during the past five weeks, in which the New Zealanders have suffered hardships and conditions almost unparalleled in the history of the war…
Brigadier-General William Braithwaite
Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Charters, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, the Otago Regiment, also added his sympathies.
Captain Molloy was a most gallant and capable officer, and will be sorely missed by all of us, particularly by me, his commanding officer, and I was very much attached to him on account of his manly qualities.
Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Charters
Captain Molloy was remembered fondly by all who served with him. He is commemorated by a memorial oak in Ōamaru.