Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Tristram Bernard James (1883–1939)

by Chris Clark

This article was published:

Tristram Bernard Wordsworth James (1883-1939), soldier, was born on 4 March 1883 in Hobart, son of Charles Wordsworth Scantlebury James, civil engineer, and his wife Maude Turton Balfour, née Crabbe. Both parents appear to have used the surname 'Wordsworth James' but their son went by the name 'James' throughout his army career.

Educated at The Hutchins School, Hobart, and Guildford Grammar School, Western Australia, James began his military service by enlisting in the volunteer artillery in Western Australia in 1899. He was commissioned second lieutenant in the Goldfields Infantry Regiment in January 1904 and promoted lieutenant in December. In February 1906 he obtained a permanent appointment in the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery and after attending courses at the School of Gunnery in Sydney in 1908 was transferred to Queensland in August 1909.

In February 1911 James was appointed the first adjutant of the Royal Military College at Duntroon — one of the few Australian officers on its staff — and was promoted captain in May 1911. Cadets later recalled him as a busy and inquisitive figure, moving briskly about the college in the performance of his duties. His short, slightly tubby build, high-pitched voice and quick movements earned him an 'unflattering insectivorous name' but he was generally recognized as an efficient adjutant, meticulous in attention to detail.

James's term at R.M.C. was extended for two years in 1915 owing to the departure of most officers from the staff for the war. In April 1916, however, he was released for active service. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a battery commander in the 7th Field Artillery Brigade with the rank of major, and after six months training in England arrived in France in December 1916 with the 25th Battery. In 1917 he won the Distinguished Service Order for extinguishing a fire in a gun-pit under heavy shell-fire. He was wounded in action on 22 July but remained on duty. In December he was transferred to the 2nd Divisional Artillery but in January 1918 was given command of the 3rd Divisional Ammunition Column. On 1 April 1918 he was appointed to command the 7th Field Artillery Brigade with the rank of lieutenant-colonel; he was mentioned in dispatches on 7 April and gassed on 24 April. Next month James took over the Reserve Brigade, Australian Artillery.

Returning to Australia at the end of 1919, he was allotted for duty with the garrison artillery in New South Wales, but in August 1920 was transferred to command the garrison artillery at Fremantle, Western Australia. In May 1921 he was moved to Victoria to the 2nd Battery, Australian Field Artillery, and in August 1922 he was placed in command of the 1st Coast Artillery Brigade and the garrison artillery in New South Wales. He went to England in November 1923 for two years exchange and on returning resumed his previous appointment in Sydney. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel, Australian Military Forces, in August 1926. On 30 May 1931 he retired, reportedly because of war injuries, and went to live in North Adelaide with his widowed mother.

James never married. After his mother's death in October 1936 he went on several trips abroad and died of chronic asthma and emphysema at Battersea, England, on 15 September 1939.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Lee, Duntroon (Canb, 1952)
  • Roy Military College, Duntroon, Annual Report, 1910/11-1915/16, and Journal, 1969
  • Reveille (Sydney), Dec 1939
  • Mercury (Hobart), 10 Mar 1883
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 30 Oct 1939
  • records (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'James, Tristram Bernard (1883–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Wordsworth James, Tristram Bernard

4 March, 1883
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


15 September, 1939 (aged 56)
London, Middlesex, England

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.