The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

Major (later Colonel CBE) William Eames

EAMES, WILLIAM L'ESTRANGE (1863-1956), medical practitioner and soldier, was born in 1863 at Neemuch near Poona, India, son of William Leslie Eames, an Anglican chaplain attached to an East India Company regiment, and his wife Henrietta, née L'Estrange. As a small boy he went to England and was educated at Oswestry Grammar School and Caius College, Cambridge, with the intention of entering the Church. When his mother died he altered his plans and became a medical student at Trinity College, Dublin. He was interested in soccer, rugby and rowing. In 1885, while he was still an undergraduate, the Sudan War broke out; he enlisted in a medical unit but the war ended and it did not embark.

In 1886 Eames graduated (B.A., B.Ch., B.A.O.) and applied to join the Army Medical Corps but although he passed the necessary tests there were no vacancies and he decided to sail for Australia. In August next year he arrived in Sydney and settled at Newcastle where he was associated with Dr J. L. Beeston in a busy general practice which was largely concerned with the shipping industry. On 19 November 1888, at Christ Church, Newcastle, he married Elizabeth Jane Lockhead; they had two daughters. He remained in practice at Newcastle until 1914 and was a foundation member of the Newcastle Club.

In 1891 Eames had joined the New South Wales Army Medical Corps (later part of the Australian Army Medical Corps) as a captain, and on the outbreak of the South African War volunteered for service. He left Sydney on 17 January 1900 as a major in the corps' second contingent and disembarked at East London on 22 February. After arrival he organized and commanded the No.2 Bearer Company. The New South Wales A.M.C. distinguished itself throughout the war and was noted for its fine training, equipment and mobility.

Eames served during operations in the Orange Free State from February to May 1900, including actions at Vet River and Zand River; in the Transvaal in May and June including actions near Johannesburg, Pretoria and Diamond Hill; and east of Pretoria from July to November. He was taken prisoner by Boers, among whom were Generals Botha and Smuts. Smuts is reputed to have asked Eames, 'Why do you Australians come over here to fight us?' Eames said, 'When you have lived under Britain for ten years you will want to fight for her too'. To this Smuts replied 'Never'. Eames was released, resumed active service and for his work in South Africa was appointed C.B., awarded the Queen's Medal and mentioned in dispatches. By early 1901 he was back at Newcastle and in 1903, as a brevet lieutenant-colonel, was given medical responsibility for the army in the Newcastle area. He become a substantive lieutenant-colonel in the A.A.M.C. in 1909.

In 1914 Eames and his family visited England for a holiday. While he was there war broke out and he was keen to enlist, but at 51 was considered too old and was precluded by Commonwealth policy from enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force overseas. Lady Dudley decide to raise a voluntary hospital to be staffed by Australian medical officers and nurses visiting or resident in England, and Eames was appointed to command it, with the temporary rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corps. By 29 August the Australian Voluntary Hospital was in France and on 5 September it opened at St Nazaire, near Boulogne, where it soon had a capacity of over 1000 beds, and at a later stage, 2000. Admirable pioneering medical work was done by this unit which was well equipped and maintained a high standard of efficiency.

As the war progressed it became increasingly difficult to staff the hospital from voluntary sources and in July 1916 it was absorbed into the British Army and renamed No.32 Stationary Hospital. Eames continued as its commanding officer and in June 1918 was promoted brevet colonel. During the war nearly 74,000 cases passed through the hospital. For his service Eames was appointed C.B.E., awarded the Portuguese Order of Avis and twice mentioned in dispatches.

In April 1919 he resigned his command and returned to Australia. That year he retired from general practice but in 1920 became the principal medical officer of the 2nd Military District (New South Wales); he was placed on the retired list of the Australian Military Forces in 1921. He maintained an active retirement, with business interests in Sydney and Newcastle, and was a director of the City of Newcastle Gas and Coke Co. An ardent golfer, he was also keenly interested in horse-racing and seldom missed a meeting at Randwick or Warwick Farm. He was a driving force behind the North Australian White Settlement Association which aimed at settling over 100,000 British men and women in northern Australia.

Eames was disappointed when no suitable medical appointment could be found for him in World War II. Survived by his two daughters, he died at Rose Bay, Sydney, on 26 October 1956, and was cremated with Anglican rites. Tall and dignified, but possessed of endearing charm and dry humour, he was a distinguished professional man who radiated kindly benevolence.

Select Bibliography

F. Fremantle, Impressions of a Doctor in Khaki (Lond, 1901); Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australia Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1911); A. G. Butler (ed), The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918 (Melb, 1930, Canb, 1940, 1943); H. Cushing, From a Surgeon's Journal 1915-18 (Lond, 1936); Book of Remembrance of the University of Sydney in the Great War, 1914-1918 (Syd, 1939); Medical Journal of Australia, Dec 1956; Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Feb 1920, 24 Jan 1922, 16, 18 May 1923; Newcastle Morning Herald, 27 Oct 1956. More on the resources

Author: D. M. Horner

Australian Dictionary of Biography

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