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William Howard St Clair (1892–1977)

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William Howard St Clair (1892-1977), soldier and estate, stock and station agent, was born on 5 June 1892 at Kew, Melbourne, son of Melbourne-born George William St Clair, salesman and later indent agent, and his wife Edith Annie, née Chapman, from Adelaide. He attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1908-11 and then joined his father in business with Virgoe, Son & Chapman, import agents. After school and military cadet service he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Australian Field Artillery (militia) on 28 June 1912.

St Clair enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 20 October 1915 and was allotted as a captain to the 4th Australian Field Artillery Brigade Ammunition Column. He embarked for Egypt in November and in February-March 1916 served with the 10th and 19th Batteries, 4th A.F.A. Brigade. By 19 March he was in France and in May was transferred to the 22nd Field Artillery Brigade. He was promoted major on 5 June. For 'excellent service' over six months, particularly in the Somme offensive from 30 July to 4 September he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. During this time, as officer commanding the 19th Battery, he had converted a brigade ammunition column into a very efficient battery. In January 1917 he was transferred to the 12th Battery, 4th A.F.A. Brigade, and on 22 March at Noreuil his battery kept down the snipers and gave covering fire to the advancing Australian troops. At Mont St Quentin in August 1918 St Clair's guns of the 12th Battery harried the Germans from spur to spur and trench to trench during the advance of the 17th and 20th Battalions. Next October he attended a course in England and on 10 November was promoted lieutenant-colonel and transferred to the 3rd Divisional Artillery from January 1919. His A.I.F. appointment ended on 16 September. In 1917-18 he had been twice mentioned in dispatches.

On 26 November 1919, at St John's Anglican Church, Toorak, Melbourne, St Clair married Norma Burnley Tatchell. Next year he joined his wife's uncle, George Appleton, in an estate, stock and station agency and remained a partner until 1962. Between the wars he maintained an active role in the militia, commanding the 8th and 22nd A.F.A. Brigades between 1921 and 1932. He was colonel and commander of the 3rd Divisional Artillery from 1933 until 1939 and was promoted brigadier in May 1938. In 1939-42 he was an honorary aide-de-camp to the governor-general.

St Clair resumed full-time military service in Australia in World War II. From April 1942 he was brigadier, Royal Artillery, 2nd Australian Army, and from next August until March 1944 was seconded to the A.I.F. He then retired from military duties because of illness. Survived by his wife and three sons, he died at Armadale, Melbourne, on 8 November 1977 and was cremated. An acquaintance, who much admired him, described him as 'a big man, with a big voice and a hearty laugh—somewhat of a tease to the ladies but chivalrous and gentlemanly as well'.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. Kiddle (compiler), War Services of Old Melburnians 1914-1918 (Melb, 1923)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1917-18 (Syd, 1933, 1942)
  • Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Liber Melburniensis (Melb, 1965)
  • war diary, 4th Field Artillery Brigade, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

'St Clair, William Howard (1892–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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