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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Shang, Caleb James (1884–1953)

by Harry Taplin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Caleb James Shang (1884-1953), soldier, taxi driver and herbalist, was born on 4 August 1884 at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, eldest of thirteen children of Cantonese-born Lee Wah Shang, cabinetmaker, and his wife Jane, née Noon, born at Gayndah, Queensland.

Shang left school at 12, the family by this time having moved to Cairns. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 5 June 1916 as a private, giving his occupation as clerk. Embarking for England in September, he joined the 47th Battalion on 7 March 1917 and served with it until May 1918. For the rest of the war, following the dissolution of the 47th, he served with the 45th Battalion, except for a fortnights detachment to the 48th Battalion in June 1918.

Shang won a rare combination of military decorations: the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar and the Military Medal. The D.C.M. was awarded for conspicuous gallantry while serving with the 47th Battalion at Messines Ridge, Belgium, in May 1917. He constantly patrolled into enemy territory, acted as a 'runner' through barrages and fire-swept areas, carried water and ammunition to the front line, attacked and accounted for enemy snipers in broad daylight and showed remarkable skill in improvising the sending of messages by signal lamp.

The Bar to the D.C.M. and the Military Medal were awarded as a result of actions near Dernancourt on the Somme battlefield, France, in March-April 1918. The 47th Battalion war diary records that Shang repeatedly displayed utter contempt for danger and showed amazing powers of endurance and great boldness. He volunteered for duty at an observation post in an advanced position at the start of an operation, remained at that post until it was destroyed, then served as a 'runner', making many trips carrying ammunition through intense enemy barrages. He successfully covered his company's withdrawal with a Lewis-gun. In May the 47th Battalion was dissolved and Shang was transferred to the 45th. On 16 August he became unfit for further service as a result of shell-fire wounds received at Harbonnières, near Dernancourt; he returned to Australia in December (to a hero's welcome on arrival home at Cairns) and was discharged from the A.I.F. on 9 April 1919.

After demobilization Shang worked as a herbalist in Victoria and on 28 April 1923, with Presbyterian forms, married Anna Louise Kassene at Hamilton. However, he spent most of his post-war life at Cairns, working variously as tally clerk, taxi-driver and bookmaker. 'Charlie' Shang was a sparsely built man, being 5 ft 7 ins (170 cm) and 8 stone (51 kg) on enlistment in the A.I.F. He spent long periods in hospital during the early 1930s and from the mid-1930s was in poor health; he was granted a 100 per cent war service pension in 1934.

Survived by his wife, one son and two daughters, Shang died of a chronic chest complaint on 6 April 1953 at Cairns and was buried in the Methodist section of the cemetery there.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1917 (Syd, 1933)
  • London Gazette, 25 Aug 1917 supplement, 3 Sept 1918 supplement
  • Reveille (Sydney), Feb 1934
  • war diaries, 45th and 47th Battalions, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Harry Taplin, 'Shang, Caleb James (1884–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 8 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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