James Commins was born in Springside in 1875, the ninth of thirteen children born to Thomas Commins and his wife Bridget nee Kennedy. Thomas Commins, a native of County Clare, had migrated to Australia to seek his fortune in the goldfields at Ballarat. In 1854 he was managing the Working Miners’ Claim at Sebastopol Hill and took an active part in the Eureka Stockade. By 1870 the family had relocated to Beneree at Springside, where, in 1888, Thomas died.
James was educated at St Stanislaus College in Bathurst. In 1890, he was awarded second class honours in elocution at the annual speech day presentations.
After completing his education James worked as a labourer at Dalton Bothers Flour Mill and was a member of the Orange Rifle Club.
On 18 September 1916 James volunteered to serve in the First World War. He spent two weeks at Dubbo training camp before proceeding to Liverpool on 2 October. A private in the 24th Battalion, 17th Reinforcement, James embarked for overseas service on 31 October 1917.
Private Commins undertook three months’ training at with the 6th Training Battalion at Larkhill, before proceeding to France on 28 March 1917.
In the early morning of 3 May 1917 the 24th Battalion was engaged in the Second Battle of Bullecourt in the Ypres sector on the Western Front. By nightfall James was reported as missing in action. There was no trace of James in German prisoner of war camps, and on 14 December a Court of Enquiry decided that he had been killed in action on 3 May 1917. James was one of 12 men from the Orange district who was killed that day during the disastrous Second Battle of Bullecourt.
In June 1925 the Base Records Office wrote to James’ mother Bridget to inquire if she would like to include a personal inscription on James’ headstone. She answered:
In reply to your notice re a headstone over the late J Commins who was killed in action in France, I am deeply grieved to have to tell you that I am not able to afford the price of a headstone over his grave as I have no income or property with which I can do if from.
When Bridget passed away on 23 July 1927 seven of her thirteen children had already died.
James Commins is commemorated on St Joseph’s Church Orange Honour Roll, the World War I Roll of Honour on the southern face of the Orange Cenotaph and on panel number 101 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
In 1923 the Anzac Memorial Avenue of trees was planted along Bathurst Road to commemorate fallen WWI soldiers. A tree was planted in honour of “Pte J Commins”; it was donated by Mrs M Chandler. Very few of the trees are still standing today.
Two of James’ bothers also served in WWI: Francis Bede Commins was killed in action on 31 March 1917 – just one month before James; Patrick Joseph Commins returned to Australia in January 1919.