Sunday, 16 March 2014

From Coburg to Los Angeles via the Western Front

4379 Private Robert Cail, 21st Infantry Battalion, 11th Reinforcements.
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Born in South Melbourne, Robert Cail was an old boy of Coburg State School, although at the time of his enlistment in February 1916 he was a 22 year old blacksmith living in Brunswick. His parents, George Henry Cail, a fireman and Frances (nee Douglas) lived firstly in Lynch’s Road, Fawkner (sometimes referred to as Coburg North) then in Colebrook Street, Brunswick and several other Brunswick addresses.

Robert was gassed twice while serving on the Western Front and returned to Australia with gas poisoning in November 1918, around the time of the Armistice.

Unusually, Robert Cail emigrated to America, calling firstly at Honolulu where a married sister lived and finally settling in Los Angeles. He didn’t marry, worked on oil tankers for a number of years and became a US citizen in 1930. He died in December 1949, a long way from his childhood home in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.

The mobility of the Cails was not unusual amongst working class families. Work meant survival, so you went where the work was. As I’ve been researching the Coburg soldiers and their families, this lesson has been brought home to me time and time again.


  1. Thanks for posting this Cheryl. I have an interest in the Cail family as the father George Henry registered as unemployed in 1892. I hadn't tracked down where Robert got to, nor two of his sisters (Emma & Gertrude) and hadn't contemplated the US as I wasn't aware of any connections there. Now with your information I can 'finish off' two of them. Thanks!

  2. Glad to be of help! And you've helped me fill in some gaps, too. I didn't get as far as working out which sister went to the States and I'd be really interested to know, if you get that far. No doubt I'll start looking at the family in a little more detail as I proceed with the research on the Coburg State School Soldiers Book, which is available online now through the Moreland City Libraries' Local History Catalogue. A great new addition!