No.4488 Corporal Robert James Cason
Robert James Cason was born at Mount Bischoff in Tasmania to Samuel Cason and Annie Curren. They had married in Victoria in 1875, and had nine children, three of whom served in the Great War. They were:
- Samuel Cason - born 1876 at Barraport, Victoria
- Robert James Cason - born 26 October 1882, at Mt Bishoff, Tasmania (AIF No 4488)
- William Cason - born 1885 at Waratah, Tasmania (AIF No 1681)
- Eli (Joseph) Cason - born 22 February 1889, at Waratah, Tasmania (AIF No 1875) (KIA 28 April 1918)
- George Cason - born 1891, died 1891, at Malmsbury, Victoria
- Mary Jane Cason - born 1892 at Kyneton, Victoria
- Gladys Violet Cason - born 1893 at Franca Reef, Victoria
- Charles Cason - born 21 January 1894 (Reg 1896), at Steiglitz, Victoria (AIF No 1989)
- Hart Margaret Cason - born 1898 at Steiglitz, Victoria, died 1898 at Ballarat East.
The Cason family were living in the area around Mount Bischoff in Tasmania in 1880s when Robert James Cason was born on 26 October 1882. His birth was registered at the settlement of Emu Bay in the following year.
When his brother Eli was born, on 22 February 1889, the family had moved to the nearby town of Waratah.
[Mount Bischoff is a mountain and former tin mine in the north-western region of Tasmania, Australia. The mountain is situated adjacent to Savage River National Park near the town of Waratah.
Around 1890 the family moved back to Victoria, where they lived in the mining towns of Malmsbury, Kyneton and Steglitz.
The Victorian Electoral Roll for 1909 shows that Robert James Cason was living at Granya (near Tallangatta in the N.E. of Victoria), and was working as a miner.
In 1912, he had moved back to the family home at Pakington Street in Geelong, and was working as a labourer. His mother Annie, and brothers Eli Joseph and Samuel were all living there together.
Between 1913 and 1914 his brother Albert was also recorded at Pakington Street Geelong.
The Victorian Police Gazette of 6 November 1913 reported that Robert James Cason was subject of two warrants for serious crimes. He was described as being a "...Tasmanian, labourer, 30 years of age, 5’ 5” tall, stout nuggety build with a short brown moustache. He follows railway construction and other similar works." His description when he joined the A.I.F. was the same - 5’ 5”, weight 11 stone 10 lbs, aged 31 years.
Immediately prior to his enlisting in the A.I.F., Robert Cason was living in the Laverton area, and had a connection with the Government Explosives Reserve Guard there. His earlier experience as a miner and using explosives may have influenced his move to the area.
In 1915-17 he had left home, and was living alone at McDougall Street Geelong, where he was working as a labourer. From 1915, the other members of his family were all living at 26 Bourke Crescent in Geelong.
At the age of 31 years, Robert Cason enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces at Melbourne in February 1915. He swore his oath at Melbourne on 17 February 1915, and went to the Broadmeadows camp for initial training. This was completed on 1 May 1915, and he was appointed as a Private to "D" Company of the 22nd Infantry Battalion.
In April 1915, while he was on leave from the Training Camp, he and his two brothers (Charles and Joseph) were charged in the City Court with assaulting a former Geelong football player. Robert was acquitted, but his two brothers were convicted. The Argus, 27 April 1915, p.8.
On 8 May 1915, Private Robert James Cason embarked at Melbourne with "D" Company of the 22nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Brigade, on the HMAT Ulysses A38, and sailed to Egypt.
On 7 August 1915, as part of the reorganisation within the A.I.F., Private Cason was transferred from the 22nd Battalion, to the 5th Field Coy, Australian Engineers, 2nd Australian Division. (After arriving back in Egypt from Gallipoli, they were renumbered as the 8th Field Coy., Australian Engineers.)
On 4 September 1915, Private Cason embarked at Alexandria with the 5th Field Coy and proceeded to join M.E.F. at Gallipoli. They sailed to the port of Mudros per Knight Templar, and arrived there on 7 September 1915, and remained there for five days. Then on 12 September 1916, they embarked per Osmanich, and arrived off Gallipoli on the following day. It took two days to unload their equipment, and set up their various camps at Anzac.
While they were in action at Anzac, the 5th Field Coy were responsible for works in the following locations; Quinn's, Pope's, Russell's Top, Courtney's No.1 and Courtney's No.2.
All of these sites were destroyed by the 5th Field Coy prior to the Australian withdrawal. The Australian forces evacuated the Gallipoli Peninsula at the end of December 1915, with the last boat leaving from North Beach at Anzac around 4 am on 20 December 1915.
The men of the 5th Field Coy left Anzac on the night of 16 December 1915, after destroying all of their abandoned equipment. They left the beach in on the “K” Lighter, and boarded the Prince Abbas for the voyage to Mudros, on the island of Lemnos. After spending several days at the Mudros South Camp, the 5th Field Coy embarked per H.M.T. Manitou on 6 January 1916, and disembarked at Alexandria on 8 January 1916.
While their ship was unloading Private Cason went absent, and was subsequently charged with “Breaking Ship (H.M.S. Manitou) and absent without leave for 4 hours.” His charge was heard after they arrived at the Tel-el-Kebir Camp on20 January 1916 and he was awarded 14 days in detention.
On 10 January 1916, the 5th Field Coy that had just returned from Gallipoli was renumbered as the 8th Field Coy., A.E., because another Coy., designated as the 5th Field Coy., had arrived from Australia.
[From the Unit War Diary]
All of February and March 1916 was occupied in training to build bridges, and in improvements to camp facilities at Tel-el-Kebir. During a further reorganisation of Australian Divisions, the 8th Field Coy was allotted to the 5th Australian Division.
On 7 April 1917, Robert Cason was appointed to the rank of Lance Corporal. His company were at this time engaged in constructing barbed wire entanglements, and water storages, before their next move to the Ferry Post Camp on 15 May 1916.
Their main task at Ferry Post was to construct a third line of defence for the camp. When this work was completed, and just prior to their relocation to the town of Moascar, Lance Corporal Cason was transferred from the 5th Field Company Engineers, on 26 May 1916, and taken on strength with the 5th Pioneer Battalion at Ferry Post, Ismalia. After time spent training, the Battalion repaired four miles of Desert Railway, which was part of the main Suez Canal defences. Daily mid-day temperatures were 119 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, and they had to cope with strong wind and dust. Work could only be performed early in the morning or late in the afternoon. From Condensed History of the 5th Australian Pioneer Battalion, A.I.F. p.2.
It was with great relief when they were able to leave the desert, prior to embarking to join B.E.F. They embarked per H.M.T. Canada, and departed Alexandria on 19 June 1916. After disembarking at Marseilles in France on 25 June 1916, they entrained for a four day journey north to Hazebrouck, and from there they marched to Bae St Maur which was three miles from the front.
One of the first jobs for the Battalion was to build a mile of railway to the front, over three consecutive nights. Despite having to cross many streams, and being subject to heavy enemy attack, they were able to successfully complete the task. This line was used as part of a disastrous attack on 19 July 1916 and for a fortnight after. In the battle, A and B Company took part in the attack. C Company maintained a supply of water to the attacking Infantry, and D Company completed a trench across No Man’s Land, in the centre of the sector.
From Condensed History of the 5th Australian Pioneer Battalion, A.I.F. p.3.
During this action, Lance Corporal Cason was sent to hospital with cuts to his toes. He was treated by the 14th Field Ambulance, and was able to return to his unit on 16 August 1916.
On 18 September 1917, Robert Cason was promoted to the rank of Corporal. His unit were still occupied on defensive works in the area.
In the middle of October 1917, the Battalion relocated south where they were to take part in the Great Battle of the Somme. Their first base was at Montauban, where they had to maintain two long communication trenches named Turk Lane and Fish Alley. These were each over two miles long, and were the only means of access to the front. Then when it rained they became unusable, so tracks along the tops of the trenches were used, and sleds were manufactured to drag loads through the mud.
In January 1918, the weather was so cold that the ground had frozen solid to a depth of about one foot. This allowed equipment to be moved relatively easily, until the thaw arrived.
Early in March of 1918, the Divisional sector was extended. Many enemy trenches were captured along the front, and this required that the Australian communication trenches be extended. Half of the Battalion worked on extending the trenches and the remainder extended the narrow gauge railway forward to Beaulencourt.
On 20 April 1918, the Division, including the Pioneers, were relieved from their work in the Somme, and relocated to Fricourt. Here they undertook training and various sports, and prepared a ground for a Divisional Horse Show near Albert.
It was at this time that Corporal Cason's brother Joseph was killed in action on 28 April 1918. He died while serving with the 58th Infantry Battalion and was buried at Villers-Bretonneux, France.
Also during this time of reduced activity, Corporal Cason was detached from the 5th Pioneer Battalion on 29 April 1918, to proceed for duty with the Pioneer Training Battalion in England.
Four days after leaving his unit, Corporal Cason marched-in to the Pioneer Training Battalion No.2 Camp at Sutton Veny, in southern England. He was officially attached for duty with the Permanent Cadre of the Pioneer Training Battalion, to complete their establishment.
As part of his training, he attended a two week P.A.B.T. Course (Physical and Bayonet Training) at the Devonport Camp in the early half of June 1918. From there, he spent a six week term at the Brigade Signal School, before attending the Musketry Pioneer Training Brigade at Tidworth, until the end of August 1918.
After four months with the Pioneer Training Battalion, it was now time to return to France.
On 1 September 1918, Corporal Cason sailed from the port of Folkstone, and marched-in to the AIBD (Australian Infantry Base Depot) at Havre in France on 3 September 1918.
While at the Havre base he was charged with committing two serious crimes. The first was being drunk while on Active Service, and the second was being absent without leave for 45 minutes on the evening of 5 September 1918. After his charges were heard, his Commanding Officer issued him a severe reprimand.
With this trouble now behind him, he re-joined his unit on 19 September 1918. The 5th Pioneer Battalion were then at Flamincourt, in a period of rest and training.
On 27 September 1918, they moved to Templeux, to prepare for a big operation. It was an attack on the Hindenburg Line, and commenced on 29 September.
The job for the Battalion was to follow the American Infantry, and drive forward two roads capable of taking horse transport. The attack began at 6 am, in a thick mist, and sometimes Coy's were ahead of the Infantry. Both roads were completed to Bellicourt, as required, but the Battalion suffered heavy casualties (mostly woundings). After this action, eight men of the Battalion were awarded Military Medals. The Battalion remained in the area, mopping-up, until 3 October 1918, when they were relieved by the 4th Pioneers.
On 9 October 1918, the Battalion moved by train to Cerisy-Buleux, where they established themselves, and began a program of training. The Battalion had their photograph taken on 21 October. [Unable to find a copy on the internet.]
News of the Armistice was received at Cerisy-Buleux at around 10.30 am on 11 November 1918. All training was suspended for the day, and the Commanding Officer held a meeting with his officers. He thanked them for their loyal support during the war. The band played patriotic and other airs during the afternoon. Most days were then fine and sunny, and the men were occupied playing sports and relaxing.
On 24 November 1918, orders were received for the Battalion to move to the Rhine region. This was done by trains which were continually being delayed. The Battalion arrived at Pont-Remy on 29 November, before ending up in Hestrud.
During December, an Education Scheme was implemented, and sports competitions of all kinds continued. Christmas Day was enjoyed by the men in their billets at Beaurieux. Thirty turkeys had been ordered and received, along with all the usual Christmas comforts. Each Company had a sit down dinner where the Officers and N.C.O.s waited on the men.
Corporal Cason was able to march-out from the Battalion on 28 December 1918, to begin his return to Australia. He left Havre in France for England on 3 January 1919, and was classified as “1915 Personnel”. This afforded him a priority in returning home.
On arrival in England, he went to the Hurdcott Camp on the Salisbury Plains. Three months after his arrival he went Absent without Leave from midnight on 3 March to 4 pm on the following day. For this action he was awarded a reprimand and forfeited one day's pay.
Corporal Cason embarked per H.M.S. Kashmir on 9 March 1919 and sailed home to Melbourne, where he disembarked on 30 April 1919. He was then discharged by the 3rd Military District on 29 June 1919.
In 1919, the Cason family had relocated to 132 Mary Street, Richmond. Living there were Albert Cason (labourer), Charles Cason (labourer), Robert James Cason (returned soldier) and Samuel Cason (miner).
Robert James Cason married Katherine Isbel in Victoria in 1921 (Reg 9949/1921), and they lived at 13 Argyle Square, Carlton South. His occupation during this time was a labourer. Katherine's name didn't appear on the Electoral Roll until 1936, which was after her husband had died.
Robert James Cason died in Victoria in March 1929, aged 46 years, and was buried at the Box Hill Cemetery.
The Age, 11 March 1929, p.1.
Katherine Cason died in 1937, and her funeral left from her home at 13 Argyle Square Carlton on 4 October 1937. The Argus, 4 October 1937, p.15.
Medals and Entitlements:
- 1914-15 Star
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
The only Cason, R, in the WW1 Nominal Roll is No.4488, Cpl Robert James Cason, 5th Pioneers, Enlisted 17 February 1915, RTA 9 March 1919.
The name "Cason R from Laverton" first appeared in the Roll of Honor, Werribee Shire Banner, 29 July 1915, p.3.
The name "Cason, R" appears on the Werribee Shire Oak Board.
The Government explosives reserve guard has been an excellent ground for recruitment. A dozen men, including Private R Cason have transferred to Broadmeadows.
Werribee Shire Banner, 29 April 1915, p.2.
Embarked as No.793, Private Robert James Cason, 31, Miner, single, of McDougall Street Geelong West: NOK Mrs Annie Cason of the same address. 6th Infantry Brigade, 22nd Infantry Battalion, “D” Company, embarked at Melbourne on 10 May 1915 per HMAT Ulysses.
5th Field Coy Engineers – Each Division had three Field Engineer Companies under command, numbered the same as the Brigades of the Division. The 2nd Division thus had the 5th 6th and 7th Field Company of Engineers on strength. (https://rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au/explore/units/110)
8th Field Company (5th Divisional Engineers) Formed in August 1915, in Egypt, as the 5th Field Company, for the 2nd Division, from men of the 6th Infantry Brigade and reinforcements. Served at Gallipoli. Renumbered January 1916 in Egypt. Transferred March 1916 to the 5th Division. Served at the Western Front. https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/engineering-and-world-war-1/engineer-units-aif
Victorian Headstones – No. 364
Pte William Cason, died 1 Apr 1916, aged 31 years.
Pte Joseph Eli Cason, died 28 Apr 1918, aged 29 years. KIA in France.
Samuel Cason, died 31 Jan 1920, aged 44 years.
Unit War Diary
National Archives of Australia
WW1 Nominal Roll https://www.awm.gov.au/people/rolls/nominal_rolls/first_world_war
Tasmania Pioneers Index 1803-1899 CD
Pioneer Index Victoria 1836-1888 CD
Marriage Index Victoria 1921-1942 CD
Victoria Police Gazette