2016 Premier’s ANZAC Spirit School Prize Essay – Private Charles Bouchier

2016 PREMIER’S ANZAC SPIRIT SCHOOL PRIZE

1Private Charles Bouchier Cass of the 43rd Infantry Battalion lived through a version of hell that we no longer have to experience. Charles fought bravely at both Gallipoli and the Western Front, suffering for his country many times. He epitomised the ANZAC Spirit in all he did and eventually took his final breath as ‘Charlie’ the much loved Australian solider, whilst fighting in battle within Allaine, France, 1918.

Charles was born in Whixley, Yorkshire to James and Annie Cass as their second son. In early 1914 Charles emigrated from England to Pyap West, South Australia, with his parents and five siblings. The year previously, the family had purchased 1800 hectares of land to farm throughout the area. Upon arrival, locals were amused by the Cass family; Peg Maycha, a granddaughter of a neighbouring farmer, remembers being told about ‘those Cass boys with their funny accents and who used to wear a collar and tie to cut wood11• Iwas also born in England, and lived in St. Nicholas-at-Wade, Kent which is approximately 270 miles south of Whixley. There are few similarities between Charles and myself, but I understand  that the  move to Australia  would  have strengthened  him emotionally, ready for  his departure to war, plus the work clearing the area for farming would’ve also strengthened him physically; creating a young man suited exceptionally well to the hardships he was to face.

On the 2nd of December 1914,Charles enlisted with the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade.It was at this point it became clear that war would  not end before Christmas and the pressure put on young men who hadn’t yet enlisted mounted. Charles joined the Light Horse Brigade as he was an avid horse rider and experienced battles at Gallipoli and the Nile Valley in between illnesses. On the 23rd of September 1916, Charles became part of the 43rd Infantry Battalion within the 3rd Division and 11th Brigade. This was due to him being ‘taken on strength’ by the 43rd Battalion.

Charles arrived on the Western Front in December 1916 and spent the next year involved in the torment of gruesome trench warfare throughout Flandes. According to D. Richardson (Australian Army Website) as part of Sir Alexander Goodley’s ANZAC Corps, on the morning of the 7th of June, the 43rd Battalion was instructed to advance through Messines and onto flat ground. Thus, Charles formed with his fellow corps members in the nearby woods, already displaying immense courage and bravery. However, although the Germans were unaware that this upcoming attack was to come from the woods, the area was gassed. The gas would burn at the eyes, nose and mouth;causing blindness or asphyxiation. During this deadly commotion, the 3rd Division lost around 1000 men whilst Charles lost many friends.

Shortly after the Battle of Messines, Charles was severely wounded in both his left shoulder and leg. He was admitted to the 2nd South General Hospital in Bristol, England on the 4th of August 1917 where he stayed until he was discharged from medical care late September 2. Whilst injured, Charles displayed many personal attributes of the ANZAC Spirit, continually showing both resilience and optimism.

Upon return to warfare, Charles became involved in the battle of Villers-Bretonneux after his battalion was moved to the Somme Valley. Australian troops took over this battle from depleted British armed forces. They were immediately assaulted with enormous willpower as on the 4th of April the Germans struck with 15 divisions and captured Hamel and Hill 104 (a strategic base and lookout). Charles experienced many horrors of World War One and suffered both physically and emotionally many times. But, this battle captured the ANZAC Spirit as they held off the Germans with sheer determination,whilst letting others recuperate. The ANZACs provided stability in war; even if it proved to be short lived.

In July 1918, it became clear how the ANZAC Spirit can help soften warfare. Charles was taking part in what was described as a ‘textbook victory’. The Battle of Hamel’s aim was to capture the town of Hamel from German forces and to create a larger defensive hold around Hill 104 and the township of Amiens. As described in the Australian Dictionary of Biographies, Lieutenant General John Monash ordered each participating tank crew became friends  with the particular  infantry battalion whom they were to work with during warfare. Charles and the 43rd Battalion soon learnt how important these friendships were to be. Marching through a small wood north of Hamel, Charles came under fire from a gun situated with the township. A  platoon sergeant  from the 43rd  Battalion  pulled on the  bell handle of the tank and opened the door. He then directed the tank crew towards the gun’s location, which was subsequently destroyed by the charging tank3•  This quick act of bravery and comradeship saved many lives that day; Charles included. The soldiers’ courage was incredible, as Charles and his comrades were fighting in an area vastly different to their homeland. An area that was covered with deep mud and cold temperatures, alongside the natural perils of being in an active war zone.

Charles’ experiences at Hamel ended in a fearsome way after he was wounded in the head by a bullet. Charles was sent to the 12th General Hospital on the Sth of August where he made a quick recovery and returned to the front  line within the month4.

When Charles returned from medical care, he joined the 43rd Battalion in warfare around the town of Allaine and Mt. St. Quentin. On the 2nd of September 1918, Charles spent the day stretcher bearing. He worked through the terrifying conditions and pain of seeing his comrades injured until 9pm where he found time to take an injured German Major to the Dressing Station. According to later reports from Private Arthur Dean5, the pair were within a hundred yards of the station when a shell exploded and the separating shrapnel hit Charles through the chest. Dean ran for help from the Dressing Station, as neither he or the German Major had been injured, but upon return it was found that Charles Cass had already drawn his last breath. Charles was buried in a field at Allaine, to the left of Mt. St. Quentin, on the 3rd of September with a cross bearing his name placed above and his personal effects sent home to his father. Till the very end of his life, Charles was a ‘pommy’ who was part of a defining moment in Australian and New Zealand history.

In Pyap West, when news of Charles’ death came the family were in shock. They were saddened more so when a few days’ later news came that Charles’ younger brother, James Oliver, had also recently passed away. Both boys left a long standing impact on the family and the area; so much so that some of these still can be seen today. A house was being built approximately a kilometre from the homestead for the elder sons, but was left uncompleted as enthusiasm died with the boys. Community wide, there were many more sufferings. Pyap West was known for hosting the liveliest parties (many of which were send offs/welcome homes for soldiers) but as many men did not return from the war, or as they began to broaden their new found horizons, the community slowly fell apart. The main town hall was left to crumble and the surrounding farmers brought out each other’s land. The Cass farm itself, however, is still a working area and is run through descendant ownership of the Cass family. Further away, in Whixley, both Charles and James are remembered as part of the village and have memorials on the village website6.

The ANZAC Spirit is about qualities individuals hold and what action they take with them, it’s about being true to yourself whilst also doing what is right in the situation and being a good citizen and representative of your country. Charles Cass was a brave solider, continually returning to service after many an illness or injury. He was a friend to all and kept his spirits high.

Charles was a pure example of the ANZAC Spirit and a true Australian.

For references please view this PDF Private Charles Bouchier Cass – Bridgette Walmesley-Cotham