Charles Cecil (Charlie) CEARNS


CEARNS, Charles Cecil

Service Number: 1962
Enlisted: 26 August 1914, Previous service in 41st Battery Australian Field Artillery; 9th Battery Field Artillery
Last Rank: Corporal
Last Unit: 21st Field Artillery (Howitzer) Brigade
Born: Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, 16 January 1890
Home Town: Hobart, Tasmania
Schooling: Queens College
Occupation: Tobacconist
Died: Died of wounds - gassed, Near Albert, France, 21 August 1916, aged 26 years
Cemetery: Millencourt Communal Cemetery Extension
Grave Reference: F5 Also, Tree 129 on Soldiers Memorial Avenue in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia., Millencourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Picardie, France
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Hobart Roll of Honour, Tasmanian Amateur Athletics Association
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World War 1 Service

26 Aug 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Gunner, SN 1962, 3rd Field Artillery Brigade , Previous service in 41st Battery Australian Field Artillery; 9th Battery Field Artillery
20 Oct 1914: Embarked AIF WW1, Gunner, SN 1962, 3rd Field Artillery Brigade , --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '3' embarkation_place: Hobart embarkation_ship: HMAT Geelong embarkation_ship_number: A2 public_note: ''
19 May 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 21st Field Artillery (Howitzer) Brigade, Temporary Bombardier
21 May 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Bombardier, 21st Field Artillery (Howitzer) Brigade
9 Jul 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Corporal, 21st Field Artillery (Howitzer) Brigade
21 Aug 1916: Involvement Corporal, SN 1962, 21st Field Artillery (Howitzer) Brigade, Battle for Pozières



On the 21st of August 1916, Charles Cecil Cearns died at the 2nd Field Ambulance, near Albert (Pozieres), France. Charles had been poisoned by gas received in action the day before.

Charles was born on 16th January 1890 in Hobart, Tasmania. He was the only son of James William and Angela Cearns (nee Mulcahy). One of Angela’s brothers, William Henry Mulcahy, was my great grandfather who served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in German Samoa during the war.

Charles’ mother Angela, died of Typhoid during an outbreak in Hobart, on 24th March 1892 aged just twenty and only two years after Charles was born.

Charles grew up in Hobart and attended Queens College. A single man of Roman Catholic faith, he worked in a tobacconist shop and was a member of the 41st Battery, AFA (Australian Field Artillery). Charles was also a champion oarsman and athlete.

Enlisting not long after the outbreak of war on the 26th August 1914, at Pontville, Tasmania, Charles sailed two months later on the 20th October aboard the HMAT Geelong, with the 3rd Field Artillery Brigade (9th Battery).

An original Gallipoli ANZAC, Charles was evacuated back to Alexandria, Egypt on 9th September 1915 (three months before the complete withdrawal of the ANZACs), suffering from rheumatism in his knees and ankles.

Charles landed in France at the end of March 1916 and was taken on strength with the 21st Australian Field Artillery (Howitzer) Brigade (24th Battery) on 15th May. He was promoted to Corporal on 3rd July 1916.

One of Charles’ comrades, writing to Charles’ father, relates how his son met his death in France. He writes:

"It must have been a terrible shock to you when you heard the sad news. Hardly anyone in the battery can believe that Charlie has passed away. I can truthfully say he was easily the most popular young fellow in the battery, always so nice and kind-hearted to everybody. The day before he died he gave me 20 francs to buy some extras from the canteen for his sub-section (D). That was only one of the many good things he did. He was in charge of D gun and would have been sergeant had he lived by this time. He was so keen to have charge of a gun and just as he seemed to reach his ambition he got killed. This is how it happened : --At about 2 o'clock in the morning of August 21 a gas shell burst right in the gun-pit, a piece catching a young man named Claude Howard inflicting a nasty wound in his leg as well as being gassed. He sang out when he was hit, and Charlie went to his assistance. Not thinking it was a gas shell, he did not bother to put his gas helmet on with the result, poor fellow, he got gassed. At the time it did not seem to affect him much as he went on firing for a couple more rounds. When the gun went out of action he went straight away and reported it to the O.C. Charlie seemed to be getting worse by this time. He then went down to the dressing station to see the doctor; a couple of us went down to the latter with him. We came back to the gun but just as he reached it he fell over, The gas had a good hold on him by this time. They lost no time in sending him away in the ambulance to the hospital. He didn't want to go, he reckoned he would be all right. He went away in good spirits and did not seem too bad, but when we heard of his death a couple of days after it came as a great shook to all of us. We could hardly believe it; in fact; one can hardly realise it now: I believe he is buried at Albert. We are a long way from that place now, but if we ever go back there again I will do my best to try and find his grave and fix it up. You have the satisfaction of knowing that he died doing his duty for his King and country and he stuck to it to the last. A pity a lot more of Hobart's so-called athletes wouldn't come and take a lesson off Charlie and do their little bit instead of loafing at home."

Charles died on 21st August 1916 aged 26. He is buried at the Millencourt Communal Cemetery Extension in France and has a plaque (Tree #129) on the Soldiers Memorial Avenue in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

Rest in Peace. Lest we Forget.

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Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From François Berthout, Australia and NZ in WWI
Today, it is with emotion and with a very deep gratitude in my heart, that I want to honor the memory of one of my boys of the Somme, who came from very far and fought with bravery and fell on the fields on which so much blood has been shed and which today bloom with millions of poppies, I would like to pay a very respectful tribute to Corporal number 1962 Charles Cecil (Charlie) Cearns who fought in the 21st Field Artillery Brigade,24th Battery of the Australian Field Artillery and who died of his wounds 104 years ago, on August 21, 1916 at the age of 26 on the Somme front.

Charles Cecil Cearns was born on January 16, 1890 in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia and was the son of James Cearns and Angela Cearns (née Mulcahy) who lived in Elizabeth Street, Hobart. Charles was educated at Queen's College, Hobart.Before the outbreak of the war, Charles lived at 30 Colville Street, Battery Point, Hobart, Tasmania, he was single and worked in a tobacconist's shop and he was a member of Tasmanian Amateur Athletic Association and a member of the Derwent Rowing Club and was a champion oarsman.

Before the war, Charles served in the 41st Battery of the Australian Field Artillery then in the 9th Battery of the Field Artillery, Citizens Military Force.

Enlisted on August 26, 1914 in Pontville, Tasmania, at the age of 24 in Field Artillery Brigade 3, Battery 9 as Gunner, he embarked with his unit from Hobart, Tasmania, on board Transport A2 Geelong on October 20, 1914 and sailed for the Gallipoli Peninsula where he arrived on April 4, 1915 where he served for five months before being evacuated to Egypt, to the hospital in Alexandria on September 9 with rheumatism. Charles joined his unit and was promoted to the rank of Temporary Bombardier on March 12, 1916 in Egypt and ten days later, he joined the British expeditionary force in Alexandria on March 23 and embarked with his unit for France.

On March 29, 1916, Charles was disembarked with his unit in Marseilles, France, and two months later, on May 15, 1916, he was sent to the Somme front and transferred to the 21st Field Artillery Brigade then, on July 3, 1916 he was promoted to the rank of corporal.
Unfortunately, the following month, In the early hours of August 21, 1916,around 2:00am, near the town of Albert, a gas shell burst over his gun pit, badly wounding one of his colleagues. Without realizing it was a gas attack and not wearing his gas mask as a result, Charles ran to his mate’s assistance.He took over the gun and kept firing, only realizing then that he had been gassed. One of his fellow gunners, who wrote to Charles ’father, James, afterwards, told of what happened next.:
"When the gun went out of action, he went straight away and reported to the commanding officer.Charlie seemed to be getting worse by this time. He then went down to the dressing station to see the doctor, a couple of us went down to the latter with him. We came back to the gun but just as he reached it he fell over. The gas had a good hold of him by this time. They lost no time in sending him away in the ambulance to the hospital. He didn’t want to go, he reckoned he would be all right.”
sadly, Charles died later that day at the 2nd Field Ambulance near Albert from gas poisoning. He left behind his father, his mother, Angela, having passed away from typhoid in 1892 when Charles was only two years old.

Today, Corporal Charles Cecil Cearns rests in peace with his comrades and brothers in arms at the Millencourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, and his grave bears the following inscription "He gave his all, his life".

As well as his grave in France, Charles' service to a grateful nation is commemorated with a plaque and a tree "number 129" on the Soldiers Memorial Avenue in Hobart. His name is also etched alongside 60,000 others from the first world war on the Rolls of Honor of the War Memorial in Canberra.

Charles, on this day we honor your memory but we remember and we honor the soldier and the man you were, a young man in the prime of his life who was loved and respected by all who knew you at home and on the battlefield, courageous and determined to serve your country and fight for your comrades and for your family, for the hopes of a world at peace, for noble and just ideas through the dark hours of war while fighting with your heart at the sides of your friends and comrades, all united in the same fight, facing day after day the horrors and the fury of the battlefield, under the din and the roar of cannons and the infernal and endless whistle of shells falling around you breaking the nerves, the bodies and the lives of young men like you who, brave of the brave, remained day and night in this hell, without protection, hoping to escape the deluge of fire and steel , under the poisonous gases burning lungs and skin,weapons of death which every day mowed thousands of lives, brave men who wanted to survive and who wanted to live, men who did, like you Charles, their duty until their last breath and who rest in peace together in the peaceful cemeteries and fields of the Somme, gone but never forgotten, we have in our hearts and in our minds the memory of the men that you were and of all that you have done for us and we will always protect the peace for which so many men fell, we will be eternally grateful to you. living close to you and watching over you is the greatest privilege of my life, walking in your footsteps, I would always be devoted to you and to your families, you who gave your youth and your lives for us, it is with all my heart that I want to offer you mine, the years will pass but my respect and my love for each one of you, like you, Charles, will never fade. you will never be forgotten.At the going down of the sun and in the morning,we will remember him,we will remember them.