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James Hutchison SHEARER MM

Rank Reg/Ser No DOB Enlisted Discharge/Death Board
Pte 7047 34y2m 29 Sep 1916 16 Sep 1919 4

Private James Hutchison Shearer MM (1883 - 1975)

Shearer Brothers' booklet

James ('Jim') Hutchison Shearer served as a stretcher bearer in the 15th Infantry Battalion in the 1st AIF and was awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in September 1917 - 'doing marvellous work rescuing and carrying in wounded under an intense barrage and enemy machine gun fire which cost us 50% of our stretcher bearers'.

Post war Jim worked as a commercial traveller and later a director of what became A.C.F. and Shirleys Fertilizers Limited, a prominent business in Queensland for many years.   He was also involved with Legacy and returned servicemen organisations, as well as an Elder in the Presbyterian Church.

His brother Donald Sinclair Shearer also served in the 1st AIF and is the subject of a separate page.

Family background

James 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

James Hutchison Shearer, known as Jim, was born in Maclean, NSW on 9 July 1883. He moved to the Darling Downs with the rest of the family in 1901, engaging in farming near Cambooya. Later he and two brothers farmed near Clifton, brothers John and Bruce remained at Cambooya, and Donald went to Bringalily, Canning Creek.

In 1915 Jim and his brothers John and Bruce established Australian Co-operative Fertilizers Ltd (A.C.F.), with the firm operating a mixing plant and bone crushing plant at Runcorn, south of Brisbane. The company was based on the co-operative idea of farmer shareholders receiving a dividend from capital invested, plus a bonus or rebate on purchases made from the company each year.

Despite the new venture, Jim enlisted in the 1st AIF in Brisbane on 29 September 1916. He gave his occupation as commercial traveller, his religion as Presbyterian, and as next-of-kin his mother Isabella. Jim stood 165cms tall, weighed 66 kg, and had brown hair, hazel eyes and a dark complexion.

Together with other reinforcements for the 15th Infantry Battalion, Jim embarked on the HMAT Beltana A72 in Sydney on 25 November 1916.

War service

On arrival in England at the end of January 1917, Jim’s group spent a period with the 4th Training Battalion, before proceeding to France in late May. They were taken on strength with the 15th Battalion on 12 June 1917.

Jim was a regimental stretcher bearer – the term for a group within each fighting unit such as an infantry battalion who performed basic first aid on the battlefield and carried wounded who couldn’t walk back to regimental aid posts.

From early in the war the bearers adopted the principle that ‘wherever the infantry went, they went’. It was dangerous, immensely strenuous work and the bearers earned enormous respect and gratitude from the rest of the 1st AIF for their courage and self-sacrifice.

For his bravery during the Battle of Polygon Wood in late September 1917 Jim was awarded the Military Medal. The recommendation said:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during operations near ZONNEBEKE on 26th September 1917. He acted as a stretcher bearer and did marvellous work rescuing and carrying in wounded under an intense barrage and enemy machine gun fire which cost us 50 per cent of our stretcher bearers. The courage and devotion of these gallant men was the theme of admiration of all members of the Battalion and to see their wonderful work recognised would give great satisfaction to the Battalion.

Jim had a period of leave in the UK from 22 November to 9 December 1917 and re-joined the Battalion at Templeux-la-Fosse during a bitterly cold winter. He was in hospital with pleurisy from mid-February to May 1918, missing the defeat of the German Spring offensive, and returning to the 15th Battalion on 29 May 1918.

The 15th fought in the Battle of Hamel in July 1918 and the Battalion’s history contains a description from Jim of the advance. It illustrates the ‘wherever the infantry went, we went’ principle:

We waited with the infantry for two hours, and then we advanced through fields of wheat torn by shell fire and interlaced with barbed wire. Overhead aeroplanes hummed and before long, we heard on the morning air the reports of our bombs falling on the village of Hamel.

The crack of the enemy’s flare pistols seemed as though the users were within a stone’s throw of where we lay concealed and silent. Dozens of these lights lit up the surroundings along our front line and an occasional shell burst on our now deserted front line. With deafening noise, the guns poured shells upon a two-mile front, and the shrapnel bursting short overhead wounded a number of our men as we moved through the wheatfield.

At the pear-shaped trench heavy fighting held up the charge for a time. Here, in a battered dugout, were captured two large trench mortar guns and their crews. We established our Regimental Aid Post in the trench. The white chalk sides were stained with blood.

Hamel was viewed as a significant success for General Monash’s planning, but the 15th suffered the highest losses of any Australian Battalion in the battle– total casualties were 240 out of 636 who took part. Jim was also serving with the 15th when the Battalion took part in the Battle of Amiens in August 1918 and the subsequent advance to the Hindenburg Line, fighting on until late September before being given a rest period. The Armistice came into effect on 11 November 1918.

Repatriation of the troops was a huge and hence slow exercise. Jim returned to Australia on HMAT Miltiades A28, disembarking on 8 August 1919.

Post war

In Jim’s absence (in 1918) A.C.F. built another mixing factory at Garbutt (a suburb of Townsville) blending seabird guano from Holbourne Island off Bowen with bone dust and imported sulphate of potash.

John Shearer managed the operation there while also being managing director of the company overall.

Jim went back to A.C.F. on his return in 1919, and worked as a commercial traveller during the 1920s. He resided in Brisbane – in Lytton Road and later Hall Street, Alderley – and attended Saint Andrew’s Church in the Brisbane CBD along with his mother Isabella, brother Bruce and his wife, and three other siblings.

In 1928 A.C.F. amalgamated with Shirleys Fertilizers Pty Ltd of Sydney, and Jim was one of the three alternates for the seven directors (who included brothers John and Bruce). The combined entity A.C.F. and Shirleys Fertilizers Ltd prospered and Jim later became a director in his own right.

In the 1930s there was rapid growth in use of fertilisers by Queensland canegrowers – attributed in part to A.C.F. and Shirleys reducing their prices in 1931, 1934 and 1935 and introducing a new policy of extending credit to farmers, subject to adequate security being arranged. As it grew the company re-developed the plant and factories at Runcorn and Townsville, set up a chemical laboratory in Brisbane, and established bulk stores at Innisfail, Tully, Proserpine and Ayr.

On 20 May 1931 Jim married Muriel Audrey Weiske in Christ Church of England, Bundaberg. Muriel had been born in Springsure Queensland and was the youngest daughter of John Charles Frederick Weiske, Postmaster in Bundaberg and Muriel Helen née Beatty.

By 1936 Jim and Muriel were living in Cairns in Sheridan Street (later moving to Martyn Street) and Jim’s occupation was listed as company director.

A.C.F. and Shirleys continued to expand, with a new factory established in Mackay in 1944. The year 1946 saw new plant and wharves at Pinkenba in Brisbane, and then the conversion of a ship-building shed in Cairns into a factory and mixing plant. Jim and Bruce successfully pursued a much larger and longer lease in Cairns – involving among other things a legislative amendment in 1951 to allow longer leases to be granted by the Cairns Harbour Board – and the subsequent building of additional facilities there. Jim retired in 1954, although he had a continuing involvement as a member of the Company’s advisory committee.

Jim was held in high regard for his ethical approach in business, with an obituary later noting: ‘Born of a staunch Presbyterian family, with a very high standard of business ethics, all through his work and life he maintained these high ideals’.

In retirement Jim continued an active involvement with Legacy, the Returned Servicemen’s League and the Presbyterian Church in Cairns (including as an Elder). Muriel similarly continued her active involvement with the Church, the Country Women’s Association and the Women’s Auxiliary of Legacy.

Jim died on 27 August 1975, aged 92, and was missed at the RSL meeting the next day which he had been planning to attend. A memorial service was held at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Sheridan Street, Cairns, and the following day his remains were cremated, with Presbyterian rites, at the Woongarra Crematorium.

He had outlived his brothers John and Bruce. John Shearer did not live to see the full extent of the Company’s growth – he died aged 56 in 1934. Bruce died in 1971 at the age of 82, having been knighted for his contribution to the State’s development and for philanthropic and charitable activities, including as an energetic chairman of the Queensland Division of the Red Cross 1959-1965. He was also an Elder at Saint Andrew’s Church in the Brisbane CBD - the 1971 annual report noted that he had served the Church ‘for many years with a very deep sense of loyalty’.

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 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 ©



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