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James WATT

Rank Reg/Ser No DOB Enlisted Discharge/Death Board
Pte 3933 41y3m 2 Apr 1917 19 Aug 1918 3

Private1 James Watt  (1876 - 1960)


Family Background

James Watt was born on 8 January 1876, the eldest of four boys and one girl in the Scottish family of James Alexander Watt (1848 – 1914) and Elizabeth née Scott (1849 – 1900).  They were all born in Glasgow, in the county of Lanarkshire and in 1886 sailed from the Port of London to Australia on the ship Nerens.  The family settled in East Brisbane. Mr J. A. Watt earned a good reputation in the firm of Allan and Stark Limited where he was employed in the country order department.

James Watt was ten years old when his parents brought him and his brothers and sister to East Brisbane.  In his youth he learnt the carpentry trade as an apprentice.

In Toowoomba on 2 March 1908, James Watt married Matilda Armstrong from County Tyrone, Ireland.  Their marriage ceremony was conducted in the manse by Rev. J. Lundie, minister of St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church.  By the year 1917, James and Matilda had a family of four children and were living in Lucinda Street, Deshon Estate, South Brisbane.


On 2 April 1917, James Watt, aged 41 years 3 months enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).  He was given service number 3933 and appointed to 10th reinforcements for the 4th Pioneer Battalion to commence training at Rifle Range Camp, Enoggera.  His unit embarked from Sydney on board HMAT2 Hororata A20 on 13 June 1917 and disembarked at Liverpool on 27 August.  Training for the work of pioneer battalions was carried out at Sutton Veny.

France and Belgium

Troops assigned to the pioneers required construction and engineering experience in addition to soldiering skills.  Tasks included digging trenches, labouring, constructing strong points and light railways and undertaking battlefield clearance.  Prepared in this way, Private James Watt proceeded to the Australian Base Depot at Le Havre in February 1918 and joined the 4th Pioneer Battalion in its work in France and Belgium immediately.  

It was on 4 April however, that rheumatic pain began to prevent James Watt from making his contribution to the war effort.  There followed periods in hospital and the need for his serious disability to be considered by a medical board.  It was found on 17 May 1918 Private Watt was permanently unfit for general service but fit for home service.  His age was 42 years and he was suffering from chronic rheumatism.  He returned to Australia on the hospital ship Barambah, embarking from London on 13 June 1918 and disembarking in Brisbane on 31 July.  He was discharged from the AIF on 19 August 1918.

Post War

Though James was away from his wife and young family for only fifteen months, changes in his family’s life would have occurred.  The eldest boy, James Alexander was nine years old. They had moved from Deshon Estate and now lived in East Brisbane.

Sadly, James was faced with grief and hardship when his wife Matilda died of pneumonia at the age of 41 on 7 July 1920.  The families of his own siblings who lived in the East Brisbane neighbourhood might have helped him.  His carpentry skills might have been useful in various ways.  But earning a living while bringing up his four young children alone and coping with his own painful disease would have been difficult in the following years.

After his eldest son, James Alexander married Olive Wilson in 1933, James Watt lived with them in the suburb of Gaythorne in north Brisbane, an arrangement lasting 27 years.

James Watt died on 23 September 1960.  It was his daughter-in-law Olive who notified the Officer-in-charge, Army Records Office of his passing, requesting information for the war memorial plaque in his honour to be placed at Mt Thompson Crematorium.

1. The honour board at Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on which James Watt’s name was placed was unveiled on Sunday 23 September 1917 by Rev. E. N. Merrington.  It incorrectly shows his rank as corporal.  James Watt retained the rank of private throughout his war service.
2. His Majesty’s Australian Transport

• National Archives of Australia, military records, World War 1
• Australian War Memorial, embarkation rolls and unit histories
Ancestry on line
• 1981 Scotland Census, Glasgow Barony
• Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists, Victoria, Australia, 1839 - 1923
• Brisbane City Council Cemetery Records
• Queensland Register of Births, Deaths, Marriages
• Australian Electoral Rolls, 1937 - 1958
Telegraph, 7 March 1908, page 6;  29 August 1914, page 5;  10 July 1920, page 6

Compiled by N. E. Adsett, Brisbane.  April 2017 ©



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