Brigadier Walter Edmund Hutchinson Cass


Studio portrait of Lt Col WEH Cass, CMG. Photo from AWM, copyright expired.

Dedicated geneabloggers know the joys that can come from making contact with family members through our stories. Recently I wrote about F is for Fromelles and Fleurbaix and last year the Battle of Fromelles:  In Memoriam L/Cpl James Gavin KIA. In these stories I mention my husband’s great-uncle, then Lt Col WEH Cass, though the focus of my story was on my grandfather’s cousin, James Gavin. Thanks to these posts I received comments on the blog from two of my husband’s relatives and we are now also in touch with WEH Cass’s grand-daughter.

I’ve always been intrigued by WEH (as I call him), initially because he was a key player at Fromelles but over the years I’ve learned much more about him. Originally WEH was a teacher but he served in the Boer War and then took a commission with the regular Army. He spent some time on secondment in India during which he played a role (not yet clear) in the Delhi Durbar to celebrate the coronation of King George V. Once again YouTube provides enlightening videos here in black and white and here in colour with sound.

WEH was part of the mobilisation of Australia’s troops at the commencement of World War I. He took part of the Gallipoli campaign and was shot twice, then evacuated to hospital in Alexandria. While he was recuperating his mother died at home in Albury.

At the 2003 Australasian Genealogical Congress in Melbourne, the keynote speakers on Anzac Day were Roger Kershaw and Stella Colwell from The National Archives in London. Imagine my astonishment when early in their presentation they referred to two items from their repository: a haversack and notebook belonging to a Major Cass which had been found after the Gallipoli battles. In that era of early digitisation, they didn’t know what had happened to him and assumed he’d been killed. We met up during the morning tea break and I was able to fill them in a little with his story and assure them that not only was he not killed, he’d gone on to achieve the rank of Brigadier. (Correction -I’ve just had advice from The National Archives that they don’t have the haversack. I’ve obviously mis-remembered this from the 2003 talk. My mistake, sorry).

After Gallipoli, WEH found himself on the Western Front, steadily gaining rank and recognition for his performance in the field. He was mentioned in despatches and awarded the Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG). WEH was well regarded not just by his fellow officers but also by the men who served under him. Perhaps this is why the carnage of Fromelles was so devastating to him: the loss of so many of his men, through what he regarded as incompetence, was something he found difficult to deal with.

Throughout these war years WEH maintained a steady correspondence with a nurse he’d met (precisely where is uncertain), Helena Holmes, from Nova Scotia. He married her after Fromelles in London in 1916. He was repatriated to Australia in early 1917 suffering from debility. On his return to Australia he remained with the Army serving in increasingly senior roles.

There is so much more I could tell you about this intriguing man but I’ll let the The Australian Dictionary of Biography provides a summary of his life story. He’s rather a researcher’s dream: there are lots of documents relating to his service at our National Archives, the ones above at TNA, photos on the AWM page and personal papers etc held by his family.

Brigadier WEH Cass died suddenly aged only 55. He was buried with full military honours in Melbourne General Cemetery.

Thanks to the family connections we’ve made through the blog, we have learned that Melbourne is currently hosting a wonderful exhibition of memorabilia relating to Walter Edmund Cass and his wife Helena including some of their letters as well as photos he took himself at Gallipoli. We’re going to make the trek from Darwin on a flying visit to see the exhibition and meet new family members. As a bonus we’ll be able to see the upcoming Kokoda exhibition as well. Bonus!

It sounds like it would be well worth a visit to Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance to see the Exhibition, especially for those in easy driving distance. So if you’re in Melbourne with nothing planned for the weekend, why not go and check out the exhibition.

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25 thoughts on “Brigadier Walter Edmund Hutchinson Cass

  1. Pauleen, this was a great story. I really liked hearing about the haversack and book and how that all played out.

    And just checked my map— Darwin to Melbourne is a far piece! So guess, I won’t even be thinking about the trek from S. Oregon. Have a great time at the exhibition.

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    • Thanks Joan. Yes it’s about 3500kms but this time it will be a quick trip down so we’re flying. We decided not to take the flights that would take us 16hrs to get home…could nearly get to England in that time! Never mind I’ll no doubt blather on about it when we return so no need to travel from S Oregon ;-)

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  2. Love the story. I have been following a number of relatives who served in WWI and have been able to track their records against the Unit diaries now published on the Australian War Memorial site for free. One of our daughters visited Villers-Bretonneux for the big ceremony a couple of years ago and ‘drove’ the train back to Amiens! They befriended the driver so she has a photo of her sittiing in the driver’s seat with the computer that drove the train. She also took a photo of a weeping cherub in the Amiens Cathedral.

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    • That must have been an amazing and emotional trip to V-B for your daughter. It certainly caught me by the throat when I visited. The train trip sounds like fun.

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      • Just think how useful it is for family history when it helps sort out all those with similar names. I love the ones named after ships. I have one born on board the ‘Bussorah Merchant’. They left out the merchant bit and named him Andrew Charles Bussorah, better known as Charlie.

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      • Yes indeed. There’s some I’ve seen but of course can’t remember right now. Did you know that a book has been written about the Bussorah Merchant though perhaps a different voyage? It’s by Perry McIntyre and Liz Rushen, both very good researchers. This is the link http://www.rushen.com.au/books.html

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      • That’s right Pauline, although as Amayezing says it does make them easier to spot in the records!! I’m glad I don’t have any John Smiths so far!! I have one ancestor with Christmas for a middle name and one with Anzac.

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      • How intriguing Kylie. As with Amayezing’s battle and river names, I’ve never seen one called Anzac but Christmas rings a dim bell as a name. John Smith would be a killer to find.

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      • Re Kylie’s comment about the good fortune of having no Smiths to sort. If you do never give up. I have a John Paterson/Patterson which is about the same! I knew a few bits and by accident met a retired policeman in Inverary and mentioned that my man had served in the Black Watch. His reply was that I HAD to go to the BW Museum in Perth and talk to Tom Smyth. I did with little to go on. Tom was near the door when I walked in and when I told him I was looking for JP and that he had also served in the Falklands his reply was ‘Yes. JP. And then quoted his service no and mentioned that he had written a piece on him for their newsletter. The Service no was what then took me to Kew and the 25 years of military service records for my John.

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      • That’s a great story Anne about how coincidence plus persistence can really open doors! And 25 years of service info…wow!

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      • I have a Verdun as a name and my grandfather’s rellies, who were drovers, had the names of rivers included in their names. Gave some clues to where they were droving I think.
        Re the Bussorah Merchant, thanks Pauleen for the link to the book. I found a Bussorah Street in Singapore in the silk market area of Little India.

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      • How interesting about the battle naming…I haven’t noticed that before. And the drovers even more so, I’d agree it’s likely the rivers were part of their long paddock.

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  3. Wow, Pauleen. What a great story! You certainly have a gift for research and reporting.

    Every time I hear a tale where a genie makes a connection via the internet I wonder why more don’t join us on the World Wide Web.

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    • Thanks for the compliment Jill. I enjoy being able to get the stories documented and “out there” and as “insurance” downloading them into book form annually. We all have so many interesting family tales to tell.

      It’s definitely true that the opportunities are there to make family connections, especially since the internet is usually the first port of call these days.

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  4. An amazing story of an amazing man. The vids, with their display of pomp, ceremoney & power in Deli, are amazing. Fancied I saw WEH with his back to the camera about 50secs in..but probably not. Am guessing he was one of the 26,800 Men & Officers of the British Regiments awarded the “Delihi Durbar Silver Medals of 1911″ described in the video notes.
    To have survived all those injuries in battle and to then die so young, of what seems to be complications from appendicitis, is tragic. Mr Cassmob must be very proud of WEH.Thanks for sharing Pauline.

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    • Thanks Catherine. I think he was really so interesting. His letters to his wife-to-be are just gorgeous -I’ve only seen a couple but they really round him out as a person. The nice thing is that it seems his men loved him too judging on some letters to the newspapers. I’ll have to have another look at the video clip at 50 secs. Yes it seems sad he died so young…after all he’d been through you’d have thought he’d be invincible.

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  5. If you need to look into British India information I suggest you try FIBIS – Families in British India Society: http://www.new.fibis.org/ – although 1911 might be too recent.

    We’ve got a middle name of Australia in my husband’s family tree, and a Persia middle name on my side for a baby born on the voyage to Australia on the “Persia”.

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    • Thanks Prue, I hadn’t thought of looking for him there since he was only in India briefly. I did have a look now but no joy. Love those ship’s name babies!

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  6. Pingback: Fromelles, Lt Col WEH Cass and family collections. | Family history across the seas

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