Robert James Cason (Service No. 4488)
(1882 - 1929)

Robert James Cason was born 26 October 1882 at Mount Bischoff in Tasmania to Samuel Cason and Annie Cason nee Curren. Robert was the second oldest of nine children and one of three Cason brothers whom served in the Great War. William Cason (1885) served with the 21st Battalion from June 1915 until February 1916 when he was returned to Australia but died from his illness shortly after and Eli (Joseph) Cason (1889) who served with the 60th Battalion from November 1916 until 28 April 1918 when he was killed in action at Villers-Bretonneux France.

By 1890 the family moved back to Victoria to live in the mining towns of Malmsbury Kyneton and Steglitz. The Victorian electoral roll for 1909 showed that Robert was living at Granya (near Tallangatta in the north east of Victoria) and was working as a miner. In 1912 he had moved back to live with his family who were now residing in Pakington Street in Geelong and began working as a labourer. Immediately prior to his enlisting in the AIF Robert Cason was living in the Laverton area and was connected with the Government explosives reserve guard there. His earlier experience as a miner and using explosives may have influenced his move to the Laverton area.

At the age of 31 years Robert Cason had enlisted into the AIF at Melbourne in February 1915. He completed his training on 1 May 1915 and he was appointed as a private to ‘D’ Company of the 22nd Infantry Battalion. In April 1915 while Robert 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. On 10 May 1915 Private Robert James Cason embarked at Melbourne with ‘D’ Company of the 22nd Battalion 6th Infantry Brigade on the HMAT A38 Ulysses and sailed to Egypt.

On 7 August 1915 as part of the reorganisation within the AIF Private Cason was transferred from the 22nd Battalion to the 5th Field Company Australian Engineers 2nd Australian Division. Within a month he had arrived off Gallipoli. It took two days to unload their equipment and set up their various camps at Anzac. While the 22nd was in action at Anzac Cove the 5th Field Company were responsible for works in the locations of 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 Company just 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.

On 10 January 1916 the 5th Field Company that had just returned from Gallipoli was renumbered as the 8th Field Company Australian Engineers because another company designated as the 5th Field Company had arrived from Australia. 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 Company was allotted to the 5th Australian Division.

On 7 April 1916 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.

Ferry Post Camp, Suez Canal

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 Ismailia. After time spent training the battalion was required to repair four miles of Desert Railway which was part of the main Suez Canal defences. Daily mid-day temperatures were 48 degrees Celsius 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.

It was with great relief when they were able to leave the desert on 19 June 1916 but their relief would have been short lived as they were transferred to Hazebrouck in Northern France 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 rail line was used as part of a disastrous attack on the 19 July 1916 and for a fortnight after. In the battle ‘A’ and ‘B’ Company took part in the attack while ‘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. 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 was 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 these trenches 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. On 20 April 1918 the Division including the Pioneers were relieved from their work in the Somme and relocated to Fricourt. 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.

5th Pioneer Battalion

After four months with the Pioneer Training Battalion it was now time for him to return to France. On 1 September 1918 Corporal Cason sailed from the port of Folkstone and marched-in to the Australian Infantry Base Depot at Havre in France. On 27 September 1918 they moved to Templeux to prepare for a ‘big’ operation. It was an attack on the Hindenburg Line that 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. Both roads were completed to Bellicourt as required but the battalion suffered heavy casualties (mostly wounding). After this action eight men of the battalion were awarded military medals. The battalion remained in the area mopping-up until 3 October 1918.

On 9 October 1918 the battalion moved by train to Cerisy-Buleux where they established themselves and began a program of training. 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.  With most days being fine and sunny the men were occupied playing sports and relaxing. Corporal Cason embarked per H.M.S. Kashmir on 9 March 1919 and sailed home to Melbourne where he disembarked on 30 April and was then discharged on 29 June.

In 1919 the Cason family had relocated to 132 Mary Street Richmond and Robert had moved back to live with his family. Robert James Cason married Katherine Isbel in Victoria in 1921 and they moved to Argyle Square Carlton South. His occupation during this time was a labourer. Robert James Cason died in Victoria in March 1929 aged 46 years and was buried at the Box Hill Cemetery.

References:

  1. https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=3218509
  2. https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=48631
  3. The Argus, 27 April 1915, p.8.
  4. Condensed History of the 5th Australian Pioneer Battalion, A.I.F. p.2-3
  5. The Argus, 4 October 1937, p.15.
  6. Werribee Shire Banner Roll of Honor, 29 July 1915, p.3.
  7. Werribee Shire Banner, 29 April 1915, p.2.
  8. https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/engineering-and-world-war-1/engineer-units-aif
  9. The Age, 11 March 1929, p.1.
  10. Australian War Memorial – awm.gov.au

Research by: Graeme Reilly (ALHS)