james watt - Saint Andrews - Saint Andrew`s Uniting Church

Booklet Number 183
Soldiers of the 4th Pioneer Battalion, AIF, constructing a road
This booklet remains the property of Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church.
Please see a Guide if you would like a copy.
Cover Illustration: James Watt served with the 4th Australian Pioneer
Battalion in France in 1918.
©Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church
Corner Ann and Creek Streets
Brisbane QLD 4000
Private1 James Watt
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 JA 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.
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
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.
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
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-inlaw 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
AIF Memorial Plaque
at Mt Thompson Crematorium, Brisbane
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
Telegraph, 29 August 1914, page 5
Telegraph, 10 July 1920, page 6
Compiled by N E Adsett,
April 2017