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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sinclair, William (1887–1959)

by J. B. Hopley

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

William Sinclair (1887-1959), soldier, boxmaker and sales representative, was born on 7 March 1887 at Dornoch, Scotland, son of George Sinclair, ploughman, and his wife Margaret Mills Sutherland, née Bain. No details of his education are known. He was a railway shunter living at Leith when he married Janet Fargie Simpson, a confectionery worker, in Edinburgh on 19 November 1909. They had no children.

The date of Sinclair's arrival in Australia is uncertain but he was a contractor from Petersham, Sydney, when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 12 October 1915. Recorded as having served in the Royal Field Artillery, he embarked for Egypt in December as an acting sergeant with artillery reinforcements. In Egypt he served as a temporary sergeant with the A.I.F.'s Divisional Ammunition Column, Cairo, from January 1916, and with the 115th Howitzer Battery from 1 April, being confirmed as sergeant on 20 May.

Sinclair's unit moved to the Western Front in June and in July he was posted to the 114th Howitzer Battery, 14th Field Artillery Brigade. On 27 July 1917, near Ypres, Belgium, his battery came under heavy shelling, which set fire to an adjoining ammunition dump. Despite the intense enemy bombardment and bursting ammunition, Sinclair continued to extinguish the fire until ordered to stop. For his initiative and coolness he was awarded the Military Medal.

Posted to officer cadet school in England in August, Sinclair was commissioned second lieutenant on 13 February 1918, and joined the 5th Divisional Ammunition Column, A.I.F., in France on 9 March. He was wounded in action on 22 March and admitted to hospital, rejoining his unit on 7 April. He was promoted lieutenant on 13 May.

During the attack on the Hindenburg line on 29-30 September Sinclair commanded a section of the 49th Battery (13th Field Artillery Brigade) supporting the 32nd Australian Infantry Battalion in front of Bellicourt. His section, passing through the infantry in a fog, came under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire which caused several casualties. After withdrawing under orders, Sinclair located the hostile battery and silenced it as allied tanks advanced. For this action, in which he was wounded but remained on duty, he was awarded the Military Cross. He returned to Australia in May 1919 and his A.I.F. appointment ended in July.

With money won in a lottery Sinclair purchased the Waterloo Box Co., Sydney, in the 1920s. The business failed during the Depression but Sinclair continued as a boxmaker working from his home and mainly supplying crates to IXL, the jam company. Later he worked as a representative, his employers including the Commonwealth War Loans Office, Good-rid Incinerators and the Medical Benefits Fund. Sinclair was a Freemason, played golf, was a member of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia and attended Anzac Day unit reunions.

His wife, a chronic alcoholic, died in 1935 and on 7 September 1937, at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sinclair married Jane Russell Thorburn. Survived by her and their son and daughter, Sinclair died of heart disease at Greenacre on 15 October 1959 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1918 (Syd, 1942)
  • London Gazette, 28 Sept 1917, 15 Feb, 30 July 1919
  • war diaries, 5th Divisional Ammunition Column and 13th Australian Field Artillery Brigade, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

J. B. Hopley, 'Sinclair, William (1887–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 29 October 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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