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Harold Vere Chumleigh (1880–1970)

by Jean P. Fielding and J. H. Thyer

This article was published:

Harold Vere Chumleigh (1880?-1970), soldier, is believed to have been born on 2 October 1880 at Carstairs, Lanarkshire, Scotland; however, no record of his birth is available and he often gave conflicting information about his origins. His early life remains a mystery. In 1897 he became a trooper in the 12th Royal Lancers, saw action in the South African War, then served in India until 1907, when he was discharged from the British Army for reasons unknown. Soon afterwards he migrated to Western Australia with a regimental comrade Henry Alfred David Ransom, whom he had persuaded to pose as his brother under the name of Harry Chumleigh. Though they later fell out, Ransom was to use this alias until his death.

In 1909 both men enlisted in the Royal Australian Artillery in Perth and next year, following the introduction of universal training, attended the first Army School for Instructors at Albury, New South Wales. On graduating, Harold Chumleigh was posted in January 1911 to the newly established Royal Military College, Duntroon, as instructor in infantry drill, musketry and signalling. Three years later, as a warrant officer, he was appointed regimental sergeant major to the Corps of Staff Cadets and held this post until 1928 when he was transferred to Townsville, Queensland. That year he was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. He retired in 1930 with the honorary rank of lieutenant.

As regimental sergeant major to the Royal Military College in its first seventeen years, Chumleigh was responsible to the director of drill for the drill, deportment and discipline of the staff cadets. He was soldierly and completely efficient in all he did and unequivocal in his practice of discipline, treating his superiors with unfailing respect and his subordinates with dignity and consideration. His attitude towards the cadets, shortly to be his superior officers, was impeccable. Chumleigh is best remembered 'in summer dress, helmet, rounded nose, and red, flushed face—immaculate summer drill, although close inspection revealed a darn or two—swan-necked spurs—leather-thonged riding whip constantly under the left arm—a high-pitched, penetrating command and a most correct salute'. He did not abuse or bully but was patient and encouraging. In cavalry exercises he led the cadets over the plains of Canberra and into the wooded slopes of Ainslie and Majura, revelling in displaying his knowledge of bush lore and horse-mastership.

Over the years Chumleigh became a Duntroon identity. Affectionately known as 'Old Chum' or 'The Marquis', he delighted in telling tales—most of them exaggerated and romanticized—of his experiences in India and South Africa; it was common knowledge that his claimed military service added up to over 100 years. His private life was predictably colourful. There is evidence to suggest that he was married before he came to Australia. In 1909 he named N. C. Chumleigh of Brisbane as his wife but no record of a marriage exists. He apparently went through some form of marriage about two years later at Queanbeyan, New South Wales, giving his name as Harold Vere Vere-Chumleigh, and there was a daughter of this union. On 31 May 1931, stating his condition as bachelor and his name as Harold Vere Douglas Cholmondeley de Chumleigh, he married Alice Christina Mayo; she divorced him for desertion and adultery in 1935. Chumleigh lived with a Gertrude Lawrence Chumleigh in Townsville in the early 1930s, but in 1937 named Elsie Louise Chumleigh of Crows Nest, New South Wales, as his wife. On 20 October 1955, at Sydney Registry Office, he married a widow, Janet Mabel Owen, describing himself as Harold Vere-Chumleigh, widower, of London. He varied his parents' names as frequently as his own.

On retiring from the army Chumleigh lived at Townsville for several years, then moved to Sydney, where in World War II he served briefly with the 2nd Garrison Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps. After 1941 he claimed to have been employed in naval security, but by 1955 was a caretaker at the Vesta battery factory, Sydney. He and his last wife lived at Katoomba where he died on 3 November 1970.

Chumleigh's contribution as the first regimental sergeant major at Duntroon was considerable. He trained, in their formative years, many graduates who served in World War I and held senior ranks in World War II. He was in no small way responsible for the mutual understanding and respect established between the Australian Staff Corps and the Australian Instructional Corps during the inter-war years of compulsory training. In 1920 he was mentioned for specially meritorious service rendered in Australia in World War I.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Lee, Duntroon (Canb, 1952)
  • S. F. Rowell, Full Circle (Melb, 1974)
  • Royal Military College of Australia, Journal, Dec 1966
  • A. J. C. Newton, ‘The Australian Instructional Corps’, Army Journal, Aug 1971
  • Canberra Times, 28 June 1934, 13 Apr 1935
  • ‘Guest of honour’ (radio), 31 Oct 1954 (ABC Archives, Sydney)
  • private information.

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

Jean P. Fielding and J. H. Thyer, 'Chumleigh, Harold Vere (1880–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Vere-Chumleigh, Harold Vere
  • Cholmondeley de Chumleigh, Harold Vere Douglas

2 October, 1880
Carstairs, Lanarkshire, Scotland


3 November, 1970 (aged 90)
Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.