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Donald Sinclair SHEARER

Rank Reg/Ser No DOB Enlisted Discharge/Death Board
Pte 721 37y 16 Nov 1916 1 Aug 1919 2

Private Donald Sinclair Shearer (1880 - 1937)

Shearer Brothers' booklet

Donald Sinclair Shearer, a dairyman and grazier when he enlisted in November 1916, served in France in the 9th Machine Gun Company in the 1st AIF.  Post war he married and worked as a butcher, waterside worker and labourer - dying of cardiac failure when shovelling gravel from a railway truck, aged 57.

His brother James ('Jim') Hutchison Shearer also served in the 1st AIF and is the subject of a separate page.

Family background

Donald was a member of   the large family of William Geddes Shearer (1835-1910) and his wife Isabella (1850-1942).

William was born in Caithness, Scotland to John Shearer, a farmer and Anne Geddes. He emigrated to Australia around 1863, and after working as a builder in Sydney, William moved to the Clarence River district where he married Isabella Kirk, a local woman born in Grafton. Her parents were David Kirk, an engineer and Catherine née Rankin.

William and Isabella went on to have 11 children, nine of whom were living at the time of William’s death in 1910. He was one of the first to grow sugar cane in the Clarence River district, establishing the first mill there on Shearer’s Point, and was closely identified with the Presbyterian Church. Later obituaries said that he ‘had occupied the highest positions for laymen in that denomination’ and was ‘known and universally respected’ in the Northern Rivers district of NSW.

Most of the family moved to the Darling Downs in Queensland in 1901 - with the central family home being Westmead near Cambooya - and focused on agriculture. 

Early life and enlistment

Donald Sinclair Shearer was born in Maclean, NSW in 1880. He worked as a butcher in Mullumbimby, but early in the 1900s joined his father and some of his brothers including Jim, in farming on the Darling Downs.

After a few years he tried his hand at dairying at Bringalily, west of Warwick and gave his occupation as grazier, Bringalily when he enlisted in the 1st AIF in Warwick on 16 November 1916.

A single man at that stage, he nominated his mother as next-of-kin and stated his religion as Presbyterian. He was 167cms tall, weighed 73.5 kg, and had a fair complexion, grey eyes and dark brown hair.

Placed with the 13th reinforcements for the 3rd Machine Gun Company, Donald embarked in Melbourne on HMAT Suevic A29 on 21 June 1917, and the group disembarked in Liverpool on 25 August 1917.

War service

It was not until 7 May 1918 that the reinforcements went to France and Donald was posted to the 9th Machine Gun Company on 12 May. Over the next month the Australians were engaged near Ville-sur-Ancre and Dernancourt.

It’s interesting to note the different timeframes experienced by Donald and Jim in their periods of service. Overall Donald’s time in uniform is an example of the substantial periods of time men sometimes ended up having to spend in training, and then waiting around for their unit to be deployed and transport to be available. Although Donald enlisted only a month and a half after Jim in late 1916, it was then nine months before he arrived in England (four in Jim’s case) and another eight and a half months before he arrived in France (compared to four for Jim).

Donald was admitted to hospital on 19 June 1918 with pyrexia (a fever triggered by the immune system sometimes of unknown cause - sometimes also referred to as trench fever).  Historian David Noonan has written about the conditions in France and Flanders:

...where men were fored to wade knee and thigh deep in a cesspool of filthy water that filled the trences.  The smallest scratch could turn septic, with one of the very real consequences of trench feet being gangrene.  Septicaemia killed men in the absence of antibiotics ...  Fevers raged through the ranks, leaving medical officers overwhelmed and not even sure of the origins of these fevers.

Although Donald returned to the 9th Machine Gun Company after a week, the condition recurred and he was invalided to UK on 24 July 1918.  After nearly five weeks in hospital he had two weeks of furlough, and returned to France on 28 November 1918 to re-join his unit. In the meantime the Armistice had come into effect on 11 November 1918.

Donald returned to Australia on the HMAT Wahehe and disembarked in Sydney on 6 July 1919, being formally discharged on 1 August 1919.

Post war

For three months in the remainder of 1919 Donald worked as a temporary engine driver for Australian Co-operative Fertilisers at Runcorn, and also didn't waste any time getting married - doing so on 31 December 1919 to Victorian-born Mary Morgan McPhail.  The ceremony with Presbyterian rites was held at her parents' home Braeside at Kooroongarra, near Bringalily.  Mary's parents were John McPhail, a farmer, and Mary nee Jenkins.

In 1920 Donald returned to butchering, working at that trade at Sunnybank until 1928, and for two years after that at Cribb Island.  The Great Depression made work hard to find - and from 1928 Donald's health also started to deteriorate, compounding difficulties in finding and sustaining employment.  He had periods as a waterside worker, a carpenter, labouring on relief work, and also made an attempt at self-employment manufacturing wood preserving oil.

At the age of 57, on 30 September 1937, Donald died of cardiac failure at the Kuyura railway siding (about 20 miles from Dalby) when he was shovelling gravel from a railway truck.  His remains were buried, with Presbyterian rites, in the Dalby cemetery.

Select bibliography
• A.C.F. and Shirleys Fertilizers Ltd annual reports 1959, 1960.
• Australian electoral rolls.
• Australian War Memorial – embarkation rolls, awards and recommendations records.
• National Archives of Australia – service and repatriation records.
• Queensland registers of marriages and deaths.
• Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church annual report 1971 p7.
• Chataway, Thomas Percival, History of the 15th Battalion Australian Imperial Forces: war 1914-1918 (W Brooks, Brisbane, 1948).
• Griggs Peter D., Global industry, local innovation: the history of sugar cane production in Australia 1820-1995 (Peter Lang, Bern, 2011).
• Johnston, Mark, Stretcher-Bearers: Saving Australians from Gallipoli to Kokoda (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2015).
Brisbane Telegraph 8 June 1951 p23.
Cairns Post 16 May 1924 p3; 14 June 1940 p3; 18 December 1946 p5; 10 September 1947 p5; 20 December 1947 p8; 1 May 1948 p6; 31 July 1948 p6; 4 October 1948 p4; 10 August 1951 p6; 31 March 1953 p6; 5 September 1953 p5; 30 June 1954 p6; 28 August 1975 p5.
Daily Mercury (Mackay) 22 July 1922 p13.
Maryborough Chronicle and Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser 1 April 1922 p6.
Queensland Country Life 31 October 1946 p9; 4 November 1954 p23.
The Brisbane Courier 4 May 1925 p3; 23 May 1930 p13; 23 May 1931 pp10, 18.
The Courier-Mail 14 February 1951 p5.
The Telegraph (Bris) 9 May 1928 p6. 
Townsville Daily Bulletin 11 Dec 1928 p7.
William Geddes Shearer snr: Darling Downs Gazette 31 May1910 p5.
Isabella Shearer: The Courier Mail (Bris) 1 July 1942 p8.
Bruce Shearer: The Courier Mail (Bris) 15 February 1971 p3.
John Shearer: Johnstone River Advocate and Innisfail News 27 February 1934. 

Written by Ian Carnell AM, Buderim.  February 2017 © Revised December 2017 ©



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