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William Mushet Learmonth CHALMERS

Rank Reg/Ser No DOB Enlisted Discharge/Death Board
Pte 38250 32y5m 13 Feb 1917 29 Mar 1919 4

Private William Mushet Learmonth Chalmers (1884 – 1944) 


Family background 

William Mushet Learmonth Chalmers was born in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1884, only son of Samuel Chalmers (1849 – 1922) and Mary (née Mushet) (1844 – 1933).  They arrived in Brisbane with their infant son William on the ship Dacca on 26 July 1887.  Samuel Chalmers was a tinsmith and the family lived in Ipswich Road, Kangaroo Point.

Working life

In his youth William Chalmers obtained employment as a draper’s assistant at well known Brisbane firms – Allan and Stark, Foy and Gibson, Finney Isles & Co, T. C. Beirne.  He left each time with a reference, probably wishing to widen his experience in the haberdashery trade.

He was 24 years old when he married Agnes Watt (1885 – 1983), the fourth daughter of Hugh Smith Watt and Agnes (née Watson) of Cathcart, Glasgow, Scotland at Thompson Estate Presbyterian Church, Brisbane on 30 September 1908.   Rev. George Ewan of Mowbraytown was the officiating clergyman.  The couple settled at Annerley Road, Annerley.

While working as a shop assistant at Overells in the Valley on 30 May 1912, an episode, later described as trifling, led to a District Court case. William Chalmers brought an action for defamation against his employer, William James Overell before His Honour Sir Arthur Rutledge K.C. wherein Chalmers claimed £5 special damages for loss of employment and £95 for general damages.

A customer had returned to the Manchester department to exchange a remnant of flannelette she had purchased for 1/3d. She also returned the docket which showed 4/3d.  Though Chalmers produced the original docket and refused to accept the altered copy, his employer blamed him for the discrepancy, terminated his employment and deducted 3/- from his wages.  Overell challenged Chalmers to take him to court: 

“You say you are innocent? Well, then, go to Knapp (meaning Mr Knapp, solicitor) next door, and get him to issue a summons against me.  It is your duty to take me to court if you are not guilty.”

Overell also said: 

“Chalmers is a very smart chap but he has been too smart this time.  It was an artful dodge to clear himself and cover up what he had done.”

The three day hearing gained much publicity but the jury after an absence of twenty minutes found a verdict for the plaintiff (William Chalmers) with £5 damages and judgment was entered accordingly with costs.  One of the newspapers reporting the incident described William Mushet Learmonth Chalmers as a smart looking young man and included the portrait sketch shown here.  Without doubt, the newspaper articles portray a courageous young man, unfairly accused and ready to defend his character and reputation.

In this he was successful as he soon gained employment in the department store of Barry and Roberts and for a short period at Harris and Co, Drapers, Rockhampton.  He was a general draper while living at Coorparoo in 1916.

Enlistment and service

William and Agnes Chalmers had a family of three children when William enlisted in Brisbane to serve overseas in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 13 February 1917.  He was then 32 years five months old, with no military experience. Allotted Regimental Number 38250, William Chalmers was appointed to reinforcements for the Field Artillery Brigade.

 He was sent for training at Liverpool, New South Wales in April and embarked from Sydney on board the steam ship Canberra on 16 November 1917, ranked as a gunner.  After the Christmas and new year period in Egypt he embarked on His Majesty’s Transport Kashgar from Port Said on 9 January 1918 and arrived in Southhampton at the end of that month.

Gunner Chalmers spent the following months at Heytesbury, an Artillery training base on the edge of Salisbury Plain till mid-June when his unit entered the Australian General Base Depot at Rouelles, France.  He served in the field with the 3rd Divisional Ammunition Column (DAC) from 23 June to 5 September 1918 when unfortunately he entered hospitals in France suffering from hemorrhoids and piles.  He was invalided to England on 12 September and after a term on furlough marched in to the command depot at Sutton Veny three days before the Armistice.  William Chalmers embarked from England for return to Australia per City of York on 14 January and was discharged from the AIF on 24 March 1919.

Post war

On his return he would have seen his fourth child, Isabella Finlayson Chalmers for the first time.  She was born in Brisbane on 2 December 1917 before her father had reached Egypt.  William Chalmers would have experienced the joy of being reunited with his wife Agnes and their other children - Samuel Learmonth Chalmers, Agnes Mary Chalmers and Robert Mushet Chalmers.  They lived at Melville Terrace, Wynnum while William was employed as a warehouseman and later a draper again.  Following his father Samuel’s death in 1922, William’s mother Mrs Mary Chalmers lived with William and Agnes and their family at Young Street, Annerley and later, 3 Hanworth Street, East Brisbane till her death in 1933.

Wiliam's son, Robert Mushet Chalmers, aged eleven drowned in Norman Creek just before Christmas in 1928.  He was bathing with two other children and apparently was seized by cramp.  His friends made attempts to save him but he sank. The boys called for help and three young men made unsuccessful attempts to locate his body.  The police were notified and after dragging for half an hour recovered the child’s body.  His eldest son, Samuel, became a plasterer, Agnes Mary a tailoress, Isabella a dressmaker and another son William James, a plumber.

William and Agnes Chalmers moved from place to place quite often during their lifetime.  They named their houses Overlea as William’s parents had done.  Addresses at Rupert Street, Windsor and Holden Street, Buranda are recorded after they left Hanworth Street, East Brisbane.  William was a member of the Court South Brisbane Lodge of the Ancient Order of Foresters.


William Mushet Learmonth Chalmers died on 27 January 1944, aged 59 years and was cremated at the Mount Thompson Crematorium.  His war record shows an alteration in his religious denomination from Presbyterian, when he enlisted, to Roman Catholic.  The change seems to have been made during his military service.  Mrs Agnes Chalmers remained a widow for nearly forty years.  She died in Queensland in 1983 at the age of 98 years.

• National Archives of Australia, military records, World War 1
• Queensland State Archives, Registers of Immigrant Ships’ Arrivals; Series 1D 13086; Roll: M1702
• Australian War Memorial First World War Embarkation Rolls
• Ancestry on line
• Brisbane City Council, cemetery records
• Queensland Post Office Directory, 1892
• Australian Electoral Rolls, 1908 – 1943
• Queensland Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages
Telegraph, 7 October 1908, pages 6 and 9
Telegraph, 9 July 1912, page 2
Truth, 14 July 1912, page 5
The Morning Bulletin, 16 April 1913, page 5
Brisbane Courier, 20 August 1914, page 11
Brisbane Courier, 3 July 1922, page 4
Telegraph, 21 December 1928, page 8 and 9
Courier-Mail, 28 January 1944

Compiled by Noel E Adsett, Brisbane, December 2016  © 



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