Private James Sharp may have been one of the earliest Australian casualties on the Western Front, when the 9th Battalion – billeted at a French farmhouse in a supposedly quiet part of the lines – came under enemy shellfire in April, 1916.
The battalion had arrived in France from the Middle East only three weeks earlier, and it was not until July at Fromelles that Australian troops first faced the Germans on the battlefield.
Jim was among the 50 wounded and 25 killed at Rouge de Bout in April 20, 1916, most likely after a German Gotha plane flying overhead that morning had spotted the regimental band’s instruments shining in the sun as it played.
Decades later, one of Jim’s comrades gave a graphic account of the shelling of the billets in CM Wrench’s history, Campaigning with the Fighting 9th.
“We had just finished lunch in another billet to the rear of C Company when the enemy opened up with a 5.9,” recounted Jack Quinlan.
“Several shells hit the barn, one went right through, and one just lobbed over and wiped almost all of us. We raced over to give assistance and I shall never forget the ghastly sight. We gathered up parts of men and broken bodies. Jim Sharp… was conscious after the shelling but with a lump of shell as big as his hand sticking to his skull.”
Initially reported dead, Jim was critically wounded and later credited his survival to the courage and bravery of his best mate, Jack Bartle, who secured his removal to a dressing station behind the front line.
With shrapnel wounds to the left foot and leg, left temple, ear drum and head, Jim was evacuated to England and admitted to hospital in London on May 15.
There, a steel plate, which he would carry for the rest of his life, was inserted in the left side of his skull. The damage to his eardrum was irreparable and he remained partially deaf.
Aged 23 when he enlisted, Jim was one of three sons who, with their mother had been establishing an orchard and dairy at Beechmont on the McPherson Range while their father, who was mostly absent in the early days, worked as a Queensland mines inspector.
Like many of the young men of the district who became his lifelong mates, Jim had been carving out farmland from virgin countryside before the war.
His work mate, Jack Bartle, joined the AIF’s, 9th Battalion on July 22, 1915. Jack was followed shortly after by Jim Sharp, Jim’s cousin, George Rankin and another mate, John Veivers, who all joined the 9th Battalion on August 13.
Jack shipped out to Egypt ahead of the others but the four were soon re-united in Alexandria before being sent to France in February 1916.
Wounded two months later, Jim received extensive medical treatment in England. On June 24, he boarded the Euripides at Plymouth to return to Australia for ‘six months change’. However, after arriving in Sydney in August, he was classed as totally and permanently incapacitated and discharged from the Army on September 20, 1916, aged 24.
Returning home to his family’s dairy farm at Beechmont, Jim was determined not to be defined by disability and devised his own rehabilitation program.
Not only did he recover sufficiently to lead a normal life and resume his work as a dairyman, Jim also went on to become a stalwart of the Beechmont and Canungra communities, a tireless member of numerous local organisations and sporting groups.
He became well known as a keen axeman and a breeder of dairy cattle and was a founding member of the Southern Queensland Dairy Company.
Jim also served with Legacy in later years, helping orphans and widows of servicemen and, as a founding president of the Canungra RSL, was responsible for the establishment of the Canungra War Memorial in DJ Smith Park.
It must have been a project close to his heart, as the memorial bears the name of his younger brother Tom Sharp, killed in action in France exactly two years after Jim was wounded.
After the war, Jim was reunited with the other three local members of the battalion who, for the rest of their lives shared the unique bond of fighting with the 9th.
In 1936, Jim received a commission in the Australian Militia and was the founding commander of the 2/14 Light Horse Regiment, Canungra Troop, training men for active service.
He was taken on strength full-time with the Australian Military Forces and promoted to Captain in 1941, fulfilling numerous roles during World War Two as the commanding officer of training camps at Beaudesert, Enoggera and Toowoomba.
Discharged from full-time service as medically unfit in 1942, Jim was just hitting his stride in local politics. He had been elected Chairman of the Shire of Tamborine in 1936 and, with the amalgamation of Tamborine, Waterford and Beaudesert Shires in 1949, became the Chairman of the new shire, serving four terms unopposed until his retirement in March 1961
Jim’s service was recognised with awards of the King George VI Coronation Medal in 1937 and the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal in 1953.
Jim remained involved in rural affairs until the last moments of his life, when he passed away on March 7, 1963, aged 71, during a meeting in Canungra to implement cattle breeding programs in the district.
For almost half a century, Jim had maintained his association with the 9th Battalion, and had been an active member of the association.
Jim’s headstone, inscribed James McDonald Sharp, Late 9th Batt 1st AIF is also testament to the legacy of his war service, and the words, Fondly remembered, express in small measure the high esteem in which he is still held by many older members of the community.