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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cass, Walter Edmund Hutchinson (1876–1931)

by L. D. Matthews

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Walter Edmund Hutchinson Cass (1876-1931), soldier and teacher, was born on 28 August 1876 at Albury, New South Wales, son of Charles Edmund Cass, publican, and his wife Catherine Lee, née Hutchinson. His father was born in England, his mother in New South Wales. Educated at Albury Superior Public School, he later moved to Melbourne with his family and on 7 October 1890 joined the Victorian Department of Public Instruction as a trainee teacher. Among his early postings were Toora, Derrinallum and Whitehead's Creek.

In February 1901 Cass enlisted for service in the South African War as a corporal in the 5th Victorian Mounted Rifles Contingent. He saw action in the Transvaal, Orange River Colony and Cape Colony, and was promoted sergeant. Returning home in April 1902, he resumed teaching and from 1904 served in the militia as a lieutenant in the 6th Australian Infantry Regiment. He joined the permanent staff of the Australian Military Forces in June 1906 and was a lieutenant on the administrative and instructional staff in South Australia in 1906-08 and in Western Australia in 1908-10. Promoted captain in July 1910, next year he went to India on twelve months exchange duty; he then held staff appointments in Sydney and Hobart until World War I and was promoted major in December 1913.

On 18 August 1914 Cass was appointed brigade major of the 2nd Brigade, Australian Imperial Force. He took part in the landing at Anzac Cove but the unit was transferred to Cape Helles to advance against the Turks at Krithia on 8 May—the first time that an Australian brigade had attacked in open country. Cass dauntlessly led the 7th Battalion across the moorland, was wounded in the chest when he reached the Krithia road, and wounded again as he lay by the roadside. He rejoined his brigade at Anzac on 28 July, was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 7 August, and until the evacuation commanded the 2nd Battalion.

On 21 February 1916 Cass was appointed commander of the 54th Battalion which reached the Western Front in July, taking over a section of the line at Fleurbaix. He was prominent in the defence of the 5th Division's sector in the battle of Fromelles on 19 July: after his brigade had captured several lines of enemy trenches he crossed No Man's Land and established his headquarters in one of them; there, throughout a night in which his battalion lost over 500 men, he maintained command in the forward area and made the final arrangements for withdrawal. After Fromelles he broke down in health and was evacuated to England where he later held an A.I.F. administrative command. On 18 October, at St James's Anglican Church, Westminster, he married Helena Holmes of Truro, Nova Scotia.

Cass was mentioned in dispatches twice during the war and appointed C.M.G. in 1916. He was demobilized in April 1917 and became director of military training at A.M.F. headquarters, Melbourne, in 1917-21, general staff officer in Queensland in 1922-23 and base commandant in Hobart in 1924. For the next two years he was director of organization and personnel services at Melbourne, then base commandant there in 1926-29 and in Adelaide in 1929-31; he was made temporary brigadier in December 1929. In September 1931 he returned to Melbourne as base commandant; he was operated on for appendicitis and died several days later on 6 November in Caulfield military hospital. He was buried in Melbourne general cemetery with full military honours; his wife and five-year-old daughter survived him.

Cass was a leading Freemason. He also took a keen interest in rifle-shooting and at the time of his death was president of the Victorian Militia Forces Rifle Union and of the Victorian Rifle Association. Charles Bean wrote of him: 'The leaders of the A.I.F. were mostly generous men, and marked for their sense of duty; but there were perhaps few in whom the recognition of duty was quite so strong, or sympathy with the rank and file so keen, as in Walter Cass'.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1912)
  • A. D. Ellis, The Story of the Fifth Australian Division (Lond, 1920)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929)
  • F. W. Taylor and T. A. Cusack, Nulli Secundus, a History of the Second Battalion A.I.F., 1914-19 (Syd, 1942)
  • C. E. W. Bean, Gallipoli Mission (Lond, 1948)
  • London Gazette, 14, 28 Jan 1916, 1 June 1917
  • Reveille (Sydney), Nov 1931
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), and Argus (Melbourne), 7 Nov 1931.

Citation details

L. D. Matthews, 'Cass, Walter Edmund Hutchinson (1876–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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