13. World War One : Family Participation

April 25,  2015.

On Anzac Day, WW1, and war.

It should be a day for solemn commemoration, quarantined from politicians.

“For those of us spared the terrors of war, to be worthy of our dead, is to remember them. It is to remember that they died, the men and women of this community, in their thousands, in faraway lands, interred in the ground upon which they perished.

It is to remember those who loved them; their fathers and mothers, wives, children and friends. It is to remember that the pain in the hearts of those who loved them, who lived after them, never healed; the promise of their lives together, unfulfilled.
It is to remember that many who returned were also harmed, so that they and their families continued to suffer. When we wish for peace it is to remember that the lasting meaning of their suffering – their warning to those who follow – remains unheeded so long as there is war.

For while their service has ended – their battlefields covered over with meadow, field and forest, jungle and desert sand – let us make of their absence a powerful presence. May we forever hold them in our minds, and the loved ones they left behind.”

The above was written by

David Whish-Wilson ..Australian Writer 


As we approach the 100th Anniversary of the ANZAC landings I thought it would be fitting to gather together as many pieces of information as to the family participation in World War One.

There may be details of other members of the family, who were participants, or there may be memories or photos that have not already been shared. I would welcome any feedback, via the comments section below or via my email contact.

William Bellingham Cairnes came from a family based in Northern Ireland, where there was a long tradition of both military education and participation in the officer class, representing King and Country. This was generational. One of his uncles wrote authoritative books on Wellington and Waterloo.

William’s father Montgomery, was  a military man. William also lost  brothers,  and uncles and cousins to war in the 19th century. So he was well aware of the consequences of war that ripple through the generations.

You can find more about these stories in the other chapters.

By 1915 WBC was 83 years old. His wife had died 6 years previous and he was now living with one of his children, in Bendigo. As I list his sons and grandsons and son in laws who were posted so very far away,  I can understand the appalling tension that  the nation underwent during these terrible years. To have a son and 9 grandsons directly involved would have been worrying burden.

Many of these men were injured or became sick and were hospitalised for long periods, some even on the outward journey. Two of his grandsons are killed in action. As the patriarch of such a large family with mothers and sisters and children left at home fearing for their menfolk, it would have been a great responsibility for such an elderly man. William died 5 years after the war ended, in 1923 , age 90. The links to their military records often give a grim picture of the conditions experienced.

The ripple effect upon all the family ; men, women and children would have been generational.

WBC Sons in Boer War and WW1

By the WW1 years WBC had 4 sons alive: George Alexander, Henry (Harry) Moore, Alan Bellingham, and Thomas William.

There is still a mystery as to the whereabouts, dead or alive, of his second son, Montgomery , who disappears post 1900, with no records of death or military participation so far found.

Montgomery’s closest brother George Alexander participates at the end of the Boer war.

145    BOER WAR George Alexander CAIRNES
– 6 Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse
He lived with his father at Yarrawonga, VIC
24/04/1902    enlisted into Boer War – 32 years of age
(to go and fight in South Africa)
suffered from pneumonia and was unable to proceed overseas

As does one of WBC’s son in laws, James Gleeson.

56       BOER WAR Private Bartholomew James GLEESON – 29 years of age
– 7th Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse
Wife:  Flora Moama Gleeson (nee Cairnes)
1902             enlisted into Boer War (to go and fight in South Africa)
18/08/1910    tragically he kills himself with potassium cyanide
at his home in Richardson Street, Middle Park, VIC
Witnessed by his wife. Leaves her destitute.
19/08/1910   in ‘The Western Australian; newspaper –
“The police took possession of a farewell letter addressed
to Mrs. Gleeson.   It is known that Mr. Gleeson had recently
been worried by money matters. He was 37 years of age,
and carried on business as a land agent.”

Is it possible, Montgomery Cairnes made his way to South Africa with his brother George, who was also living and trading in Perth WA, where Montgomery’s wife and 3 sons were also living.

WBC’s only son to attend WW1 is Alan Bellingham, then aged 35 . Harry, aged 44 , in Gunnedah, is exempt due to health issues, and Thomas aged 29, does not appear in any military records.

I have placed each participants details in this order:

Number , Name, Rank, Age, Marital Status, Trade, Religion, Address at Embarkation ,Next of Kin, and Address Date and place of Joining, Unit Death, or Return and any Weblinks to their military records – which are interesting reading indeed.

1. 2622 Alan Bellingham Cairnes,( 13th Child 6th son of WBC ) Pte, age 35, single, Book Keeper, Cof E, Coburg Victoria, Father -William Bellingham Cairnes 7 Bancroft St, Bendigo.

2622   WWI Private Alan Bellingham CAIRNES – 58th Battalion
He had lived with his father WBC above at 7 Bancroft St, Bendigo, VIC on enlisting.
03/07/1916    enlisted in Melbourne, VIC – 35 years of age
02/10/1916    embarked Port of Melbourne, VIC onboard HMAT A71 Nestor
as a Private with 58th Battalion, 6th Reinforcement
09/02/1919    returned to Australia onboard HT Ascanius
21/08/1919    discharged from service
21/09/1948    Alan passed away
Buried in:       Botany Cemetery

 https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=42993  http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=3184733

Joins 3.7.16 Melb, Unit 6th reinforcements, Returned to Australia 9 February 1919, http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/DetailsReports/ItemDetail.aspx?Barcode=3184733&isAv=N

2. 145 George Alexander Cairnes. Age 32, single, saw mill manager, Congregational church, Yarrawonga, father WBC Yarrawonga.6 Battalion Australian Horse for Service in South Africa,

CAIRNES, GEORGE ALEXANDER [Regimental No.145] joined 26-4-1902 – Boer War Dossier



3. Bartholomew James Gleeson. Age 29. Son in law. Married to Flora Moama Cairnes. 1 child.

Boer War. Light Horse. Joined 1902. Tragically kills himself 8 years later at his home, with potassium cyanide. Witnessed by his wife. Leaves her destitute.

WBC Grandsons and great Grandson in WW1


2783 Steel, Arthur Leonard  ( grandson of WBC ) Pte, age 19, Single, Clerk C of E Stroud NSW Father- A W Steel, Bank of Australia, Stroud, NSW . Mother Emily Beresford Cairnes , 4.8.15 Sydney , 31st Infantry the 17th Infantry,  DOD 11.8.18 Killed in Action Buried Heath Cemetery, Picardie France age 20

2783   Lance Corporal Arthur Leonard Steel – 17th Infantry Battalion
Father Arthur Wintle Steel and Mother Emily Beresford Steel (nee Cairnes)
Arthur lived with his parents at Stroud, NSW on enlisting.
04/08/1915    enlisted ___ – 19 years of age
02/11/1915    embarked Sydney, NSW onboard HMAT A14 Euripides
as a Private with 17th Battalion, 6th Reinforcement
Last rank:      Lance Corporal with 17th Battalion
11/08/1918    killed in action
Buried in:       Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres, France
Plot VI, Row C, Grave 16
His name is commemorated on Panel 84 at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, ACT.



4778 Steel,Howard Cairnes ( grandson of WBC ) ACT Sergeant Age 19, Single,  Bank Clerk , Cof E, Bank of Australia Stroud ditto, 8.11.15 30th infantry, Sydney. Returned to Australia 19 June 1919

4778   Sergeant Howard Cairnes Steel – 20th Battalion
Father Arthur Wintle Steel and Mother Emily Beresford Steel (nee Cairnes)
Howard lived with his parents at Stroud, NSW on enlisting.
08/11/1915     enlisted ______  – 19 years of age
14/04/1916     embarked Sydney, NSW onboard HMAT A40 Ceramic
as an Acting Sergeant with 20th Battalion, 12th Reinforcement
19/06/1919     returned to Australia onboard HT Militiades
22/09/1919     discharged from service
11/04/1931     passed away
Buried in:        Macquarie Park Cemetery



611918 McKay, Arthur Adrian ( grandson of WBC ) Cptn  , Age 32, Married ,  mother in law is Theresa Holmes Cairnes,  Medical Practitioner C of E, Caulfield Vic, Wife Mrs A McKay, 276 Walsh St South Yarra, , 10.9.18 Sydney, AAMC leaves on Hospital ship for Europe at end of war. No record of return although survives https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=199919


5663   Staff Sergeant William Leslie ELVINS   b. May 1883 Yarrawonga, VIC – d. 20/01/1952 Carlton, VIC
buried in Melbourne General Cemetery, Carlton, VIC
m.  1913 – Florence (Florrie) Cassie Elvins (nee JACK)
(b. 01/03/1890 Stawell, VIC – d. 27/04/1954 in Richmond, VIC)
buried in Warrigal Cemetery, Heidelberg, VIC
lived at lived at Grandview Hotel
1932    divorced


1st AGH – Dental Corps
Wife Florence (Florrie) Carrie Elvins (nee Jack)
(daughter of Emily Eliza Jack, now John Martyn Elvins wife)
lived at Grand View Hotel, Fairfield Park, VIC
12/07/1915   enlisted in Melbourne, VIC  –  32 years of age
17/07/1915   embarked Port of Melbourne, VIC onboard HMAT A67 Orsova
as a Private with Dental Corps, 1st Australian General Hospital
17/10/1916    returned to Australia onboard HT Ajana
08/12/1916    disembarked into Australia
04/01/1917    discharged from service (chronic rheumatism & malaria)
20/01/1952    passed away
Buried in:       Carlton Cemetery, Carlton,  VIC


4180 John Martin Elvins (grandson of WBC )( mother is Mary Elizabeth Cairnes) Pte lance Corp, age 29,  Married,  Manager Presby Grandview Hotel, Fairfield Park Vic – wife Mrs Emily Eliza Elvins 23 August 1915 6th Batt 13 reinforcements. Returned to Australia 28 March 1919 https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=91462


2644A Elvins, James Hawkey (grandson of WBC ) Pte,  Age 24 ,Single, Not on Embarkation Roll ,C of E , Only on Roll of Honour, Father Henry Elvins, Yarrawonga Vic Mother Mary Elizabeth Cairnes WBc’s 1st daughter, 7th Battalion DOD 20.9.17 KIA Ypres West Flanders Belgium Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, West-Vlaanderens, Flanders, Belgium




Harry Cairnes ELVINS  b. 13/08/1887 Yarrawonga, VIC – d. 1972 Canterbury, VIC
held a position as “Accountant” – Australian Soldiers Repat Fund (1906 – 1916)
(Sept. 1916 Prime Minister’s Department)
m.  1914 – Cora Elvins (nee DIMOND – b. 1891 Richmond, VIC – d. __)


397 Cairnes,Henry Montgomery ( grandson of WBC) Driver, age 24,  Single,  Stockman, Cof E Boree Ck, via Lockhart, NSW.  Mother: Mrs A D Cairnes, 12 Hamilton St Subiaco. Perth WA Father Montgomery Cairnes. Deceased,  24.8.14 Fremantle 4th AGA Returned to Australia 16 July 1917.

397     Sergeant Henry Montgomery Cairnes – 1st Field Artillery Brigade
Father Montgomery Cairnes (dec) and
Mother Mrs Alice Duncan Cairnes, 12 Hamilton St, Subiaco, WA
24/08/1914    enlisted in Fremantle, WA – 24 years of age
18/10/1914    embarked Sydney, NSW onboard Transport A8 Argyllshire
Driver with 1st Field Artillery Brigade, Battery 3
16/07/1917    returned to Australia onboard ____



3038 Cairnes, George Alexander ( grandson of WBC)  age 23 , Single, Brass finisher, C of E, Subiaco WA ,Mother Mrs A D Cairnes 128 Nicholson St Subiaco, Perth WA ,Father Montgomery Cairnes, Deceased,  13.9.15 Fremantle 11th Infantry Returned to Australia 28 February 1919.

3038   Gunner George Alexander Cairnes – 1st Field Artillery Brigade
Father Montgomery Cairnes (dec) and
Mother Mrs Alice Duncan Cairnes, now living at 128 Nicholson St Subiaco, WA
02/08/1915   enlisted in Perth, WA – 23 years of age
13/09/1915   embarked Fremantle, WA onboard HMAT Themistocles A32
as a Private with 11th Infantry Battalion, 10th reinforcements
28/02/1919   returned to Australia onboard HT Anchises
07/04/1919   disembarked into Albany, WA
03/06/1919   discharged from service
21/08/1972   passed away
cremated:     Plaque in Western Australia Garden of Remembrance



79170 Cuthbert Cairnes ( grandson of WBC) Sgt , age 33, Married, Book keeper, CofE , Wife Mrs Jessie Ann Cairnes. Childrens Hosp Perth. 132 Nicholson St Subiaca Perth , 9.8.18 Melb, Fit for Clerical service with Recruit Depot Battalion, Broadmeadow. Discharged 7.1.19 . remains in Australia for duration.

79170   Sergeant Cuthbert Cairnes – Broadmeadows Camp, VIC
Wife Mrs Jessie Ann Cairnes, c/o Childrens Hospital, Perth, WA
lived at  132 Nicholson St, Subiaca, WA
10/1915        enlisted in Home Service – still serving on this enlistment
09/08/1918   enlisted in Melbourne, VIC – 33 years of age (b.11/03/1885)
appointed to Clerical service with Recruit Depot Battalion, Broadmeadow
due to varicose veins and hernia
remained in Australia for duration of war
07/01/1919   discharged from service


WBC’s cousin Claudious Beresford Cairnes’ son Charles is also killed in WW1, after also attending the Boer War.
2607    BOER WAR  Sergeant Charles Beresford Cairnes
– 3rd New South Wales Imperial Bushmen

Lieutenant  WWI – Charles Beresford Cairnes – British Army
C Battery 148th Brigade Royal Field Artillery
Father Arthur Wintle Steel and Mother Emily Beresford Steel (nee Cairnes)
Eldest son – 31 years of age on enlisting
After school, he joined the Colonial Sugar Refining Company
1915             left for England
June 1916     on active service in France
22/04/1917   killed in action at Arrars, France
Buried in:      St Leger Military Cemetery, St Leger, Arras, France
His name is commemorated in a Commemorative Book at the Australia
War Memorial, Canberra, ACT – for those Australians who fought with
the British Army.

Other Links on Internet




In WBC’s old photo album which looks like it may have been created in the years leading up to  WW1, there are several postcards, and letters, with his own comments written in the margins, during those worrying years. All are tinged with love, concern and pride. The family members in those years referred to him  in correspondence as ” the dad “.