88 George “Bill” William Casburn
88 George “Bill” William Charles Casburn was born in 1890 in Junee NSW to parents George William Casburn and Hannah Norman. Growing up and schooled at Narrandera, he was known as Bill Casburn to help distinguish him from his father George.
He was 24 when he enlisted with fellow Narrandera natives 121 Talbot Griggs and 16 Marcus Clark. Talbot Griggs was quoted as saying that Narrandera was ‘the place where they grow men’. The young men of Narrandera and the community were certainly strong supporters of the war effort and they had a very high percentage per population volunteer. Bill’s younger brother Frederick Norman Casburn 5342 19th Reinf. 1st Batt. also enlisted later in January 1916.
Bill was a carpenter, a trade taught to him by his father George who in the early 1880’s had been involved in the construction work of the Narrandera and Goulburn Railway and later became self employed as a building contractor in the Narrandera region. Many original buildings built by George and his apprentice son Bill are still standing to this day.
Before Bill Casburn left for Gallipoli he was one of twenty Australian sappers were taken on board a troopship at Lemnos Island, and in company with a number of marines received special training in demolition work. The object was to land the men at the entrance of the Dardanelles, and after the naval guns had wrecked the forts of Chanak and Seddal Bahr they were to land and meant to complete the work of destruction.
Known as the attempt by the allied naval forces as “The Forcing of the Narrows”, the attempt failed and the sappers mission was aborted.
The following extract from one of Bill’s letter home was published in the Sydney ‘Sun Newspaper’ on Tuesday 21st September 1915.
A ” Dawn lander “ at Gallipoli Bill Casburn served continuously up to 27th Sept 1915 . With bouts of rheumatism and Diarrhoea , like many Anzac’s, eventually it had all taken its toll on Bill and with muscular pain and weakness, he was transferred to hospital in Malta.
By December 1915 Bill Casburn was back at full strength and rejoined the original unit at Alexandria, before embarking to France in March 1916 and amidst the carnage at the western front.
1916 – The Battle of Pozieres
The men of the 1st FCE were about to see battle like they had never seen before, Gallipoli quickly became a distant memory and within 4 days the Engineers had suffered casualties in numbers like never before. The entire Australian and British Forces at this time were suddenly faced with the real possibility of certain death. Pozieres would be two weeks of pure hell.
Australia’s own official war historian Charles Bean, declared that the Pozières ridge “is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.”
Within the first four days the return lists for the engineers prepared by Lieut. Robert Osborne Earle for Major Richard Dyer outlined the devastation at what was called ‘Chalk Pit’ .
Wounded between the 22nd and 26th July 1916 were thirteen of the originals including 88 George Casburn, a gun shot wound to the right hand and shoulder. Sadly originals 58 Patrick Hirst was killed in action, 234 Archibald Evatt Bland and 50 Lionel Fuller Burton both died from their wounds.
Bill Casburn was transferred to hospital in England, recovered and did not return to France, but was promoted instead to the A.M.T.S with rank as Artificer, a rank described as a senior non commissioned officer in the technical branch.
Bill returned to his home town of Narrandera in 1918. His younger brother Frederick who was a very small man at 5ft 3” and 8 stone, and perhaps not in good health when he enlisted, fortunately also returned within a year of enlisting in 1916 , suffering from a heart condition and Anaemia. His 1st FCE mates 121 Talbot Griggs and 16 Marcus Clarke also originals from Narrandera also returned and no doubt would have exchanged many experiences.
Bill returned to his trade as a carpenter, and his father still a building contractor in Narrandera, perhaps also reunited in their trades once more.
In 1922 Bill married Hazel Olive Le Tissser, described as a large and colourful affair, with ” a large number of handsome and useful presents…. together with many cheques” as reported by the local ‘Narandera Argus’ newspaper.
“A very pretty wedding was celebrated at the Coolamon Methodist Church on Wednesday last, by the Rev. J. Thomson, the contracting parties being; Hazel Olive, second youngest daughter of Mr. and Mrs J. T. LeTisser of Talbot; Victoria…….. and George William eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. G. Casburn, of -Narandera.
The church had been very prettily decorated by the friends of the bride, a trellis work screen with an aperture for the bride mid bridegroom to stand in having been erected in front of alter the screen being artistically intertwined with greenery and white flowers.
The entrance to each pew surmounted by a white posy. The bride, who looked particularly charming, entered the church during the singing of the hymn ” The Voice That Breathed O’er Eden’ ; she was attired in a gown of cream crepe-de-chine, with an overdress of silk radium lace, with pearl and bugle trimmings, and carried a shower bouquet of sweet peas, carnations, jonquils and hyacinths, with tulle streamers. She also wore the customary wreath and veil……………..Mr. Norman Casburn, brother of the bridegroom, was best man. The happy couple left the church to the strains of the “Wedding March” ably played by Miss Elston, who acted as organist. The ceremony was performed in the presence of a large congregation who afterwards adjourned to the Masonic hall, where the reception was held, and where the happy couple were the recipients of hearty congratulations from the large company……………… Guests to the number of 80 then sat down to a excellent repast. The floral decorations of the tables consisted chiefly of roses……….The happy couple left by the evening mail train for Victoria, where the honeymoon is being spent. The bride’s travelling dress was a navy serge frock trimmed with military braid, with hat of blue panne velvet, trimmed with osprey feathers. A large number of handsome and useful presents were received, together with many cheques. The future home of the happy couple will be in Narandera. “ – Source-nla news-article119955899
Shortly after settling in Narrandera, Bill and Olive had a son Norman William “Bill” born in August 1923 and later they had an adopted daughter Margaret. Bill and his wife Hazel relocated to Dee Why near Manly in the early 1940’s perhaps seeking some respite by the seaside suburbs of Sydney.
“Bill” George William Casburn died on June 15th 1954 at Manly and he was buried at French’s Forest Cemetery, his obituary in the Narrandera Argus said the following…………
“Mr Casburn took an active interest in several local activities. He was a member of the Manchester Unity I.O.O.F. lodge for many years, and also of the Narrandera Rifle Club. When the Narrandera Bowling Club was formed he became one of its early members, and retained his interest in it until his departure from here about 12 years ago.
He was also one of the foundation members of the Narrandera Athletic Association, and was the starter at its Easter carnivals for practically every carnival during the active life of the Association. Even after he left Narrandera he came back here regularly at Easter time to officiate at the carnivals. He was appointed the Narrandera delegate to the New South Wales Athletic Association, and was afterwards elected to the council of that body. He was also a member of the Masonic Lodge for many years.
Deceased is survived by his wife and one son, William, who resides in Brookvale (sic), Sydney. He is also survived by an adopted daughter, Margaret, and one sister Tillie (Mrs. Askey, of Narrandera). A brother Norman predeceased him.”
In 1967 his wife Hazel applied for his Gallipoli Medal and it was witnessed by their son Norman. Hazel at this time was living in Dee Why. Norman William Casburn was a member of the RAAF Service No.130180 and died in 2003.
The “Bill” tradition lives on and so does his memory.
Notes: Two brothers of the originals were also wounded at the Battle of Pozieres – 2149 Julian Banks brother of 14 Edmond Banks and 2190 George Pasfield brother of 139 James Pasfield.
According to records 1980- son of Bill and Hazel, Norman William Casburn was married to Janet Kathleen nee Mason – and a son Gavin William Casburn. The “Bill” tradition lives on and so does his memory.
AWM, NLA, NAA