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.

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 third son, Montgomery , who disappears post 1900, with no records of death or military participation so far found. His closest brother George Alexander participates at the end of the Boer war. As does one of WBC’s son in laws. Is it possible, he 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.

His 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, Pte, age 35, single, Book Keeper, CofE, Coburg Victoria, Father -William Bellingham Cairnes 7 bancroft St, Bendigo, 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 Pte, age 19, Single, Clerk Cof 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 https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=286559


4778 Steel,Howard Cairnes 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 https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=286590


611918 McKay, Arthur Adrian 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


4180 John Martin Elvins ( mother is Mary Elizabeth Cairnes) Pte lance Corp, age 29,  Married,  Manager Presby Grandview Hotel, Fairfield Park Vic – wife Mrs E E 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  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-Vlaanderen, Flanders, Belgium https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=91461


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 https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=42996


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 https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=42995


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. http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/scripts/Imagine.asp?B=3188661


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 “.