Canadian Helena Holmes first met Australian Walter Cass in Western Australia in 1909. She was enjoying a world cruise with family. A veteran of the Boer War, he was serving in the Australian Military Forces. They maintained a regular correspondence thereafter.
Holmes trained as a nurse and joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) in April 1916. In May she was sent to Britain. The ever-present threat of U-boats made the Atlantic crossing from Canada a perilous journey.
The last few days we have had to wear life belts all the time except at bed-time & meals…there has been no smoking allowed on deck for several nights, portholes closed – no bugle calls on deck, guards all over the place – everything very warlike…It was just about here, someone cheerily remarked, that the Lusitania went down.
Helena Holmes, 29 May 1916.
Helena met Cass again when he was evacuated to England in deteriorating health after the Battle of Fromelles in July 1916. Cass’ command, the 54th Battalion, had advanced the furthest during the battle and suffered severe casualties. Her own health had suffered due to stress of work, and she resigned her commission. They were married at St James Anglican Church, Westminster on 18 October 1916.
The couple returned to Australia in 1917, where Brigadier Cass held several military positions. He died suddenly of appendicitis complications in November 1931, only a month after leading the funeral procession for General Sir John Monash.
Helena supported herself and her young daughter through journalism and radio work. She was one of the first female journalists in Australia with a by-line. In 1965, Helena joined the 50th Anniversary pilgrimage to Gallipoli in remembrance of her husband. She died later that year
Reproduced courtesy of Diana Cousins
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Reviewed 24 April 2023