The Australian Raitts

As yet I have not really looked too deeply into various Raitt families in Australia, despite the fact that three of my cousins (children of one of my father's sisters, Alice Raitt, who married Peter McAneny) emigrated there many years ago and their children and grandchildren were either born or grew up there. This is something that I will get around to doing more on.


There are a couple of Raitts in Australia who are currently buried in other pages on this site. On the Lyttelton Raitts page, the mysterious Hallaine Raitt is discussed. Ostensibly the daughter of James Raitt and Helen MacDonald who emigrated to New Zealand from Arbroath in 1874, she moved with her husband William Luff to Queensland, Australia about 1910.


Then on the Raitt Anecdotes page there is quite a long piece about James Rait born in 1808, possibly in Edinburgh, where he was convicted of house-breaking by the Edinburgh Court of Justiciary on 19 July 1837. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison - not in the Edinburgh city jail, but instead the penal colony on Van Diemen’s Land (or Tasmania as it is known today).


However, there is also quite a lot to be found about a brother who emigrated from Angus to Australia before the 1st WW and his sister who emigrated just after.

On 14 January 1919, Elizabeth Ann Raitt married Alexander John Cameron at Smiddyhill, Stracathro, Forfarshire and the happy couple left Scotland’s shores a short while later to settle in Australia. In fact, Alexander had been born in Dunedoo, New South Wales, Australia on 17 February 1891 and the reason for him being in Scotland was the end of the 1st World War. He went there to woo and wed Elizabeth and bring her home as a war bride because her brother John William Raitt (see below) had emigrated to Australia some time before and had become Alexander’s best mate and had, no doubt, told his friend all about his sister! John had joined up with the Australian Imperial Force in Liverpool, NSW a couple of days after Alexander and both were shipped off to Europe on 12 May 1915 from Sydney aboard Her Majesty’s Australian Transport Themistocles as part of the 17th Infantry Battalion. Indeed, the pair had spend their R&R leave at Smiddyhill where Alexander got to know Elizabeth.


Alexander had enlisted on 12 February 1915 in Liverpool, NSW. He gave his age as 23 years and 2 months, he was a labourer, and had been born near Dunedoo, NSW. His next of kin was his sister Mrs May Dunn, residing at Public School, Hampton, via Mt Victoria, Blue Mountains, NSW. He was assigned to the X2A Trench Mortar battery, D Company, 17th Battalion, 5th Infantry Brigade. He was 6ft tall, weighed 194 lbs, had a dark complexion and dark hair and blue eyes. At the end of October 1915 he found himself in hospital in Malta with jaundice (his sister was apprised of this fact); he then embarked for Egypt on H. T. Nile having been found fit for active service in early December 1915 (his sister was also informed about this) and he returned to active duty in mid-January 1916. In March 1916 he embarked at Alexandria and disembarked in Marseilles a few days later. An extract from Routine Orders dated 26 August 1916 notes that in a Congratulatory, the name of Gunner A. Cameron, was one of those brought to the notice of the Corps Commander for their good and gallant behaviour in connection with the recent hard fighting around Pozieres. In April 1917 he was detached from his Trench Mortar company in France to receive instruction from the 2nd Divisional Signal School also in France. Two weeks later he rejoined his unit. He became sick again and was sent to hospital, then placed on admin duties. In October 1917 he again rejoined his unit following two weeks leave in the UK. In 1918, still in France, he was transferred to another battery and had another period of leave in the UK in the first couple of weeks in October 1918. On 2 January 1919 Alexander travelled from Le Havre to Southampton (and thence to Scotland) before returning to Australia on the H. T. Kashmir on 9 March. He was formally discharged on 1 July 1919 and planned to reside in Tucklan, via Gulgong. His discharge papers note he was a farmer upon enlistment. He was entitled to the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.


Alexander presented his wife-to-be, Elizabeth Raitt, with a picture frame that he had made from a brass shell casing as a souvenir of the war (below right).

On their marriage extract (a copy of which was included in Alexander’s Army records) Elizabeth Ann Raitt was aged 24, residing at Smiddyhill, Stracathro and her parents were given as James Raitt, farmer, and Louisa Strachan. Alexander was 27, a farmer, and also a Gunner, 2nd Division, Australian Artillery. He gave as his usual residence Tucklan, via Gulgong, NSW and presently with the Australian Imperial Force. His parents were Alexander John Cameron, farmer, and Annie Holmes. Few details are presently known about Alexander and Annie, although it appears that they had three, possibly four, children all born in New South Wales: Alexander John, born 17 February 1892, Redbank, Dunedoo - died 7 January 1960, Sutherland; May Nora, born 2 August 1893, Talbragar - died 1980 - married T. E. Dunn; Vincent, born 12 December 1895, Birrawa, Gulgong - died 13 October 1948, Sydney; and possibly Christina, born 1899, Wellington - died 1972. Their father Alexander John is said to have been born in 1845 and died on 26 August 1927 in Gulgong.


Gunner Alexander Cameron, 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column, returned to Australia on 9 March 1919 on H. T. Kashmir. Following her letter to the appropriate authorities in Melbourne, his sister Mrs T. E. Dunn was informed that the ship was due to arrive in Melbourne on or about 22 April, but the date when it was due to arrive in Sydney was not yet known. The ship eventually arrived on 26 April 1919. His new bride, Elizabeth, travelled to Australia some time after Alexander - giving him time to settle back into civilian life and find a home for them both. The exact date of her travel is not yet found but it must have been either later in 1919 or early in 1920.


Before leaving Smiddy Hill, Elizabeth wrote a long letter (dated 26 January 1919) to her sister-in-law, May Dunn, introducing herself and hoping that May would not be disappointed in hearing of her brother’s wedding. The complete text of this letter, written over a century ago, is reproduced below.


Smiddy Hill

Brechin

Scotland



My dear sister - it does sound strange addressing you thus when I have never seen: but from hearing Alex talking about you I feel as if I know you already. I do hope you are not disappointed in hearing about his wedding. We learned to love each other three years ago when he first came to our house by Jack’s request to spend his leave from France. It seems as if we were just made for each other even tho he has come all those miles to find me. We could not speak of marriage while that awful war was going on, but my prayers have been answered and he was spared to come through it all safely, so we had a lovely wedding at the above address two weeks ago. I thought of you that day and wished you could have joined us for Alex’s sake, only he is so like me our selves he feels quite at home with us. I think we both have lived in the air the last two weeks and have had a lovely honeymoon visiting all my friends in Scotland then we came down to London and spent the last few days with my sister. Alex returned to camp yesterday and is expecting now to sail any day for home so today I am missing him dreadfully only I hope I will see him before he sails. I am not coming with him just yet. I will stay at home till everything is a little more settled and it will give him a chance to look out for a home for us. I hope it won’t be long before I am able to join him as I long now to settle down in a little home of our own. I do hope you will be welcoming him home as he sure has played the game these past four years. I do hope we are to be good friends, which I feel sure we will. How is your dear little boy. Alex left me his photo. You must tell him he has got a new Aunt and that Uncle Alex will soon be home. Do write to me when you have time. I shall love to hear from you. We had our photos taken so I shall let you have one later. I will stop now as I have Alex to write tonight yet. Best love.


Your sincere sister


Bessie A. Cameron.

January 26th 1919

Elizabeth and Alexander Cameron had two children: Jean Louise, born 21 March 1921 in Kogarah, Sydney; and Allan James, born 16 February 1924 in the same place. Jean married Keith William James Parnell (1917-4 January 1995, Kogarah) on 10 March 1943 in Sydney and they had two sons: Ian Charles, born 16 April 1946, Sydney; and Warwick Cameron, born 8 July 1949, Sydney. Jean died in Kogarah on 22 May 2009.


Elizabeth and Alexander’s son Allan had an Apprenticeship with New South Wales Railways from July 1944-July 1946 as a fitter and machinist making war machinery and locomotives. He subsequently joined the Royal Australian Navy when he was 21 and served as an Engine Room Artificer from July 1946-July 1948 when he was demobbed. Transferring to the Australian Merchant Marines he served from July 1948-July 1952 as a Fitter and Turner. From July 1952-July 1978 saw him back in the Royal Australian Navy as Chief Engine Room Artificer and Chief Petty Officer and rising to Warrant Officer, Marine Technical Propulsion.


During his long career in the Navy, Allan served on numerous ships and received commendations from the Australian as well as United States Navy. Medals included the Vietnam Medal and Vietnamese Campaign Medal in 1967, as well as the General Service Medal with Borneo clasp. He was honoured with the British Empire Medal (Military) in 1969 - the citation reads in part: “His performance as the leader of the engineroom maintenance effort in H.M.A.S Hobart contributed significantly to her high degree of operational availability during Vietnam service. The award is in recognition of meritorious service as Chief Engineroom Artificer in H.M.A.S Hobart.” In 1989, he was selected to receive the NSW Premier’s Senior Citizen of the Year Award or Sutherland Shire.. He was also awarded the Centenary Medal for community service in 2003. In January 2016 he received the Order of Australia Medal. His wife, Shirley, had been similarly honoured with the Order of Australia Medal in 2014. Allan died on 15 March 2018 in Miranda, Sydney, aged 94, and as Warrant Officer Allan James Cameron has a commemorative plaque in the Office of Australian War Graves, Garden of Remembrance, in Sydney War Cemetery.

Allan had married Shirley Mary Dowman (born 10 June 1926 in Lismore; died on 26 January 2017 in Miranda) in Hurstville, Sydney on 19 February 1949 and they had two children: Stewart James, born 26 July 1953 and Jennifer Ann, born on 8 October 1957 - both in Camperdown, Sydney. Stewart married Melanie Jane Everingham 9 (born 1 June 1976 in  Sutherland) on 16 January 1999 in Miranda. The couple had two sons: Kyle James, born 2 September 1997 in Sutherland; and Curtis Allan, born 14 September 2000, also in Sutherland. Stewart worked as a plumber for ten years  from 1970-1980 and then became a professional lifeguard in Australia and Japan from 1980-2016 when he retired. Jennifer married Otto Liessmann (born 24 February 1958 in Hof Saale, Bavaria, Germany) on 5 November 1982 in Sutherland and they have two children both born in Sutherland: Karl Otto Cameron, 25 July 1985, and Jana Inge Cameron, 29 May 1987.


Elizabeth Ann Cameron nee Raitt died in Kogarah on 11 February 1946, while her husband Alexander died on 1 July 1960 in Sutherland. As Elizabeth Ann Raitt she had been born on 26 April 1892 in Castle Terrace, Bervie, Kincardineshire and from her birth extract we learn that her father James Raitt was, at that time, a bus proprietor and he and his wife Louisa Strachan had married on 10 December 1880 in Bervie. James himself had been born on 24 April 1856 in Balbinny, Aberlemno, Angus to William Rait, farm servant, and Ann Leuchars who had married in Carmyllie, Angus on 16 June 1849. William was from the parish of Carmyllie, though Ann was from St Vigeans, Angus.


Elizabeth was the penultimate of eight children of James and Louisa Raitt - the others being: Martha (Mattie) Ann Strachan; Annabella Strachan; Louisa Lillias Strachan; John William; James; Margaret Helen; and Robert Shephard. Details of Elizabeth’s siblings (apart from brother John William Raitt - see below), her parents and ancestors will be found on the Angus Raitts page.


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John William Raitt, the oldest brother of Elizabeth Ann Raitt (see above), was born on 17 August 1886 in Richmond, Yorkshire - his birth there being registered in the fourth quarter of 1886. However, in his enlistment papers for the Australian Infantry Force in 1915, he stated he was born in Bervie, Kincardineshire. Perhaps he believed he was since the family returned there when he was not even two years old. In the 1891 census, his place of birth is given as England, though in 1901 it is Bervie! He died on 7 July 1955 in Arncliffe, NSW. It is not yet known exactly when John emigrated to Australia - clearly well before February 1915 when he enlisted and had become firm friends with Alexander Cameron (see above). He is not yet found in the UK 1911 census, so perhaps he had already gone by this time. Aged 26 years and 8 months at the time of his enlistment in Liverpool, NSW, and a labourer (where he was living is not stated), William John was a decorated war hero earning the Military Medal and the Belgian Decoration Militaire, in addition to the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He rose through the ranks to become Regimental Sergeant Major. His WW1 service record will be found on the Raitts in the 1st World War page.


It would appear that like his friend Alexander Cameron, John also got married in the UK, presumably whilst on leave - though, unlike Alexander, his marriage certificate is not included in his service record. (An entry in his service record notes that the Registrar General at Somerset House was contacted re his marital condition.) As John William Raitt, he is recorded as marrying Mary Ritchie McCullum Allan in the Presbyterian Church, East Avenue, East Ham, Essex, England on 13 July 1918. John was aged 29, a bachelor and his occupation was given as Regimental Sergeant Major, 17th Battalion, Australian Imperial Forces, residing at No. 3 Command Depot, Hurdcott; his father was given as James Raitt, farmer. Mary was aged 32, a spinster, working as a clerk in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, and residing at 98 Sutton Court, Plaistow; her father was given as Robert Allan, plasterer. In a potted biography of John’s AIF service, it mentions that it was during his convalescence that John met his future wife Mary Ritchie McCullum Allan (1888-1964) - a Scots lass from Firth. It seems as though members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps were also stationed at Hurdcott during the time John was there - so this is where he probably met Mary Allan.


Unfortunately although there are plenty of births of Mary Allans, there seem to be none with the full name. However, a Mary Allan was born on 13 November 1887 in Dunfermline, Fife to Thomas Allan and Margaret Meiklejohn who married there in 1878 and had several other children. Since there is no place called Firth (on its own - though there is Firth of Forth, Firth of Clyde, Moray Firth and several other firths), then I think the birthplace was misheard or misspelled and should in fact have been Fife. Margaret’s mother’s maiden name was Saunders - so the Ritchie McCullum names may be from grandparents perhaps.

John brought Mary back to Australia with him when he returned on 23 July 2019 and they subsequently had a daughter, Helen Grace, born 30 March 1920 in Arncliffe, NSW. Helen died in 2000. There is a possibly rather poignant story to mention here. Although he gave his father, James Raitt of Smiddy Hill as his next of kin, there was a note affixed to his file to the effect that when returning to Australia, advise Miss I. Hood, Baldovan, Cormiston Avenue, Concord, Sydney. This was in response to her letter of 7 April 1919 to the Officer for Invalids: “Being requested by a soldier having no next of kin to meet him on his return, I beg to apply for an Anzac Buffet ticket - RSM J. W. Raitt, MM, BDM.… Hoping you can grant my request, faithfully yours (Miss) Isabella Hood.” It is not known who Isabella Hood was - perhaps a girl friend he knew whilst living in Australia after he emigrated - if so, she was not aware of his martial status and doomed to disappointment. Equally, she may have been simply an acquaintance or kindly lady who knew he had no family in Australia and wanted him to have someone on the dockside to meet him. There seems to be no response on file to her request.


There is a response, though, to a letter from George Grovener, 2 Wootley St, Balmain, Sydney to the Officer Commanding, Base Records, Melbourne, dated 1 September 1919 requesting the name of the troopship, plus date of arrival, that John would arrive back on, noting that he would be accompanied by his wife. The reply, dated, 5 September, stated that John was returning to Australia, with his wife, per H. T. Main. The vessel was presently held up in Cape Town, South Africa and the date of arrival could not therefore be furnished. George was invited to watch the press for the information. In the event, it looks as though John and his wife finally disembarked on 15 October 1919. Again, who George Grovener was is not known - possibly a friend who John had informed about his marriage.


In the Australian Electoral Rolls for 1935 and 1936 NSW, Lang, Arncliffe, we find John William Raitt, beltman, and wife Mary Ritchie McCallan, involved in home duties, living at 30 Togo Street. In 1943, still in Arncliffe, but living at 30 Mount Street, we have John William Raitt, beltman and wife Mary Ritchie McCallan. They are still at the same address in 1954 and John is still a beltman. The brief biography of John notes that after the war he worked at the Eveleigh railway yards and took an ongoing interest in the affairs of the 17th Battalion Association which was formed in 1930. He was the Chairman of the 40th Anniversary commemoration of the battalion sailing in the ‘Thermistocles’, on 7 May 1955 at Winn’s Auditorium in Sydney.


John died on 7 June 1955 in Sydney and is buried in Woronora Cemetery, Sutherland, NSW. Wife Mary died on 4 November 1964 in Sydney and is buried in the same cemetery. Daughter Helen Grace Raitt was born in 30 March 1920 in Arncliffe and died on 13 August 2000 in Sydney. She married John Leslie Neilson (1915-1985) on 27 May 1943 in Sydney and they had a son, Colin Raymond, born 23 June 194 in Sydney.

It is interesting to note that there are two other Raitts buried in the same Woronora cemetery: James Raitt, who died 4 April 1954, aged 62, and his wife Ann Peters Steel Raitt, of Glen Road, Ourimbah, who died on 25 August 1972, aged 83. James Raitt had married Ann P. D. Ramsay in 1923, in Hurstville, NSW. She was born on 25 November 1888 in Carnoustie, Barry (where other members of John William Raitt’s family lived!). Her father was Andrew Ramsay, a mercantile clerk, and her mother was also Ann Ramsay - they had married in Barry on 29 July 1887. Her death announcement in the Sydney Morning Herald noted that she was the dearly beloved sister of several siblings - all deceased - whether these were in Australia or Scotland is unclear. James may be the James Raitt, of 27 South Road, Lochee, Dundee, a joiner aged 30 who emigrated to Australia on 19 September 1922 from London aboard the Themistocles. Thus he may be the James born 15 October 1891 in Arbroath, Angus to James Raitt, and Margaret Walker Ritchie, who married in St Vigeans on 6 May 1887 (he was 22, she was 25.) James was aged 22 and a joiner journeyman and his mother was named as Isabella Raitt, spinner in a flax mill, deceased. Margaret was 25, a cabinet maker’s polisher and her parents were William Ritchie, seaman in the merchant service; and Mary. It turns out that James was illegitimate and born on 6 August 1864 in Arbroath to Isabella Rait, flax mill worker, spinster, illiterate - no father is named. In the 1871 census for 13 East Mill Wynd, St Vigeans, grandson James Rait, 6, scholar, born Arbroath is living in the household of Ann Rait, widow, 54, born Aberdeenshire; and her two daughters Isobell, 30, flax mill spinner (i.e. James’s mother) and Christina, 16, canvas power loom weaver - both born St Vigeans. Ann’s husband was Alexander Raitt, a flax dresser, born about 1817 in Arbroath. They had at least five children. It would appear that James and Ann Raitt are not related to John and Mary Raitt - though they may have known each other. I will follow up on this family.