• Private Caleb James Shang, September 1918.
    Image credit: Cairns Historical Society.

    Born in Brisbane in 1884, Caleb James Shang was the eldest of 13 children of Chinese-born Lee Wah Shang and his wife, Jane. Caleb left school at the age of 12 and prior to the First World War, he was working as a clerk.

    After his younger brother Sidney Waugh Shang enlisted in January 1916, Caleb enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 5 June 1916, and in September he embarked for England on HMAT Seang Choon.

    Caleb was transferred to the 47th Battalion and served with it at Messines Ridge, where he was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for fearlessness, resource and initiative. Throughout the battle, Caleb conducted patrols through enemy territory, acted as a runner under heavy fire, carried water and ammunition to the front line, attacked enemy snipers in broad daylight and taught himself to use lamp signals to send information to battalion headquarters. Official War Correspondent C.E.W. Bean wrote in his notebooks that Shang worked from daylight to dark, and each time he returned to headquarters with some kind of information. The Commanding Officer would joke, “You don’t appear to be doing much,” to which Caleb would reply, “I’m a bit new to this … this is only my second stint”.[1]

    Caleb and his battalion went on to join in the intense fighting around the Belgian village of Passchendaele in May 1917, then, in 1918 served with the 47th at Dernancourt near the Somme battlefield. Again, he distinguished himself, volunteering for duty at an observation post in an advanced position and remaining there until it was destroyed. He acted as a runner, making numerous trips carrying ammunition under heavy enemy fire. He also used a Lewis gun to successfully cover his company’s withdrawal. As a result of his bravery, Caleb was awarded the Military Medal and a bar to his DCM.

    In May 1918 the 47th Battalion was disbanded and Caleb joined the 45th. On 16 August he was wounded by shell-fire in his right leg and was evacuated to the 3rd Auxiliary Hospital in Kent, England. In December Caleb returned to a hero’s welcome in Cairns. He was discharged from the AIF on 9 September, 1919.

    After the war Caleb worked as a herbalist in Victoria, and on 28 April 1923 he married Anna Louise Kassene. Caleb and Anna later moved back to Cairns, where he held various jobs, including as a tally clerk, a taxi-driver, and a bookmaker. He and Anna had two daughters and one son. Throughout the 1930s Caleb spent long periods in hospital due to poor health and was granted a full war pension in 1934. He died following illness on 6 April 1953, leaving his wife and three children behind.

    Notes

    [1] C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1917.

    Activities for research and classroom discussion

    1. As a class, brainstorm some of the qualities of the Anzacs. How does Caleb’s story reflect and/or differ from these characteristics?

    2. Caleb was a clerk prior to the war. How do you think this job may have differed to the tasks he performed during the war?

    3. Why do you think Caleb might not have enlisted until after his younger brother did?

    4. Caleb used a Lewis machine gun to ensure the successful withdrawal of his company at Dernancourt. What benefits did this gun have over other firearms during the First World War?

      George Benson, Lewis gunner, 1919–20 (oil on canvas, 152 x 126 x 10 cm).

    5. Following the action at Dernancourt, Caleb received a bar to his Distinguished Conduct Medal. What does this mean?

      Distinguished Conduct Medal and bar.

    6. After the war, Caleb suffered poor health and spent much time in hospital. What does this tell you about the effects war had on servicemen and their families after war?

    7. The War Pensions Act 1914 established the grounds upon which war pensions would be granted. What were war pensions? Who could they be granted to? Why were war pensions important?

    8. Click on the thumbnail below to download a short film. Watch the film and answer the following questions:

      1. What was the repatriation scheme?

      2. Why was it established?

      3. What were some of the jobs the soldiers completed under the scheme?

      4. Compare the objectives of the repatriation scheme with the War Pensions Act 1914. List some of the pros and cons of each of these initiatives.

      Repatriation film, c. 1918.