Clive Reginald CALLISTER MC

CALLISTER, Clive Reginald

Service Numbers: 811, N239986
Enlisted: 5 February 1915, Melbourne, Victoria
Last Rank: Captain
Last Unit: Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC)
Born: Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, 10 October 1889
Home Town: Shepparton, Greater Shepparton, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Mining engineer
Died: Natural causes, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 21 September 1971, aged 81 years
Cemetery: Woronora General Cemetery and Crematorium, N.S.W.
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World War 1 Service

5 Feb 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 811, 21st Infantry Battalion, Melbourne, Victoria
10 May 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 811, 21st Infantry Battalion, HMAT Ulysses, Melbourne
10 May 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 811, 21st Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
10 Aug 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 6th Machine Gun Company
29 Jun 1917: Honoured Military Cross, Pozières, For conspicuous good service at Pozieres between 26-28th July at Pozieres where he occupied a very exposed MG position which was continuously and heavily shelled. Although wounded (back), he remained at his post.
29 Jun 1919: Discharged AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 2nd Machine Gun Battalion

World War 2 Service

31 Mar 1942: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (AMF) - WW2, Captain, SN N239986, Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC), Arncliffe, New South Wales
11 Sep 1945: Discharged Australian Military Forces (AMF) - WW2, Captain, SN N239986, Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC)

Help us honour Clive Reginald Callister's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From: Ballarat & District in the Great War

Lt Reginald Clive Callister MC from Ballarat.


The lives of many of our soldiers were inextricably entwined with some of the remarkably occurrences of Australian history – both socially and militarily on the battlefields of the Great War. That was certainly the case with Ballarat’s Reg Callister.

Born at Ballarat East on 10 October 1889, Reginald Clive Callister was the first-born son of teacher, William Hugh Callister, and his wife, Rosetta Ann Dixon. His father, who was later described as ‘an exceptional man’ who was ‘animated by high motives,’ had a strong influence over his growing family. The nine children were all educated at various local schools as William Callister moved with his teaching career. It would later be seen that his expertise in geology would have a particular influence over his eldest son.

By 1905 Reg was ready to pursue a career of his own and he began a course of study in practical chemistry at the Ballarat School of Mines. His examination results quickly revealed a student with a higher than average ability. He soon added geometry, geology, mine surveying and assaying to his list of studies. He also acted as assistant to Professor Daniel Walker, the school’s ‘demonstrator in physics and chemistry’.

The death of Reg’s 42 year-old mother on the 6 April 1909 came as a sad blow to the family. William and Rosetta, with their younger children, were, at the time, living in Kingston where William was employed as the local school teacher.

In 1910 Reg’s younger brother, Cyril, would follow him to the School of Mines, the beginning of a career that would forever change the fabric of Australian society, as he was to become the inventor of the celebrated yeast extract breakfast spread Vegemite.

In 1910 Reg was offered his first position and left for Western Australia to join the Hill Propriety Company in Kalgoorlie as an assayer. The following year he was made an Associate of the School of Mines in metallurgy. 
A move to the mining township of Mirrin Mirrin, three hours north of Kalgoorlie, soon followed.

It wasn’t long before Reg left in search of broader experience. He journeyed to Ashanti in West Africa in late 1911, where he was to hold the position of assayer, chemist and reduction officer at the Presten Block A gold mine. Illness, however, forced an early return to Western Australia in the year leading up to the outbreak of war.

However, within months of war being declared Reg quickly returned to Victoria to enlist. He presented himself at the recruiting depot in Melbourne on 5 February 1915 and, despite his lack of previous military training, was immediately accepted. His medical examination revealed that he was only of average height, but was strongly built and he was passed fit for active service.

Following a period of training at Broadmeadows, Reg was posted to D Company of the 21st Infantry Battalion alongside several other local boys, including Charlie Gunn from Sebastopol.

The newly raised battalion with its full complement of men, sailed from Port Melbourne on 10 May 1915 onboard the troopship Ulysses. Additional training was conducted in Egypt before the men embarked once again – this time bound for Gallipoli. However, on 2 September a potentially catastrophic incident occurred as the troopship Southland plied its way across the Aegean Sea towards the Greek island of Lemnos. Reg was later able to describe in some detail the torpedo attack by the German submarine UB-14 in a letter to his father.

‘…We got our first experience of active service on the water, as three days after sailing at 10am a German submarine got a torpedo into the transport on which we were. She did not sink and very few lives were lost. I left just before 12 and was picked up by a hospital ship about 1:30pam and arrived at the base later in safety. 
Archie Campbell is safe and Jenkins also, but Gunn, who was near the spot where the torpedo struck, was killed instantly. The hole in the ship is 37ft x 22ft, but only Nos 3 and 4 holds flooded.

We left a lot of gear as the departure from the was not an organised affair, and of course after being struck we counted on the ship sinking. I saw the wake of the torpedo just before it struck. One or two where in old S Coy have been killed.

We should be re-equipped shortly and move on to the Peninsula. I have recovered everything except my boots and puttees. The sea was calm and an hour or two after being struck [and] there were ships of all sorts, shapes and sizes, in nearly every direction, called up by wireless…’

His description of the death of Charlie Gunn was yet another sad reminder to those back home of the random tragedy of war…

After landing at Gallipoli on 7 September, Reg was able to write once more to his father, where he complained that his watch had been ‘spoiled by the sea water’ during the near sinking of the Southland and he was then ‘unable to see how time passes when serving on my gun.’ He also noted that many of the Turkish shells failed to explode.

On 1 November, Reg received his first promotion when he was made a provisional sergeant at ANZAC. On returning to Egypt he received his commission – an obvious recognition of his leadership qualities. Within days of being appointed second lieutenant on 10 March 1916, Reg was seconded for duty with the 6th Brigade Machine Gun Company.

Things continued rapidly from that point. On the 18 March the company was inspected by the Prince of Wales and commander of the AIF, General William Birdwood. The following day at 2am the men entrained for Alexandria to begin the journey to France onboard the troopship Minnewaska. Reg stepped ashore in France on 25 March 1916.

On 28 August Reg wrote to his sister Minnie, who was teaching at the Shepparton High School where their father was also engaged as principal.
‘…Dear Minnie, I did not write as usual yesterday as we were disengaging after another argument with Fritz, rather to the left of the previous one.

I received one or two letters while in there and several papers just before and just after it. One of yours is 28/5/16. I know just about as much French now -as when I landed. Hughie Smith has come through both our attempts on the Thiepval - Pozieres line unharmed. I have not seen or heard of Archie Campbell. [Their cousin, who had been killed just three days before this letter was written].

I was not far distant when the shell fell that killed Bruce King, and saw it, land and explode, flinging bricks and earth about. Later in the day I heard that he was dead. It happened in Erzinghem [Erquinghem]. They turned a hospital inside out at the same time.

A later letter of yours is dated 11/6/16. There are numerous books of the "Fragments from France" series in circulation. Most of them are very good too.

I haven't heard anything of Ron Warren since we left the Peninsula. He never wrote. Cyril
said in his letter I received the other day that Colin is in England. Your last letter is dated 25/6/16. I got it a few days ago.

We had only 43 days in the line this time, during which time I had 60 hours, not quite in the front line, but with the most forward guns. One of my gun positions was within 30 yards of our previous position in the cemetery. Three of them were in places that were well shelled, but by indirect and unobserved fire, as they were behind the ridge. We had a lot of indirect fire, and later, when my old battalion advanced, two other guns did likewise, and one of them under Sergeant Hopper accumulated, in instalments, a great heap of German dead in front of the line. The Company had four killed and six wounded, and Sergeant Desmond, of No. 1, may lose the sight of his left eye. I cannot understand how the section escaped so lightly as the battalions all around got it in the neck.

Our old battalion killed a trench full of Germans but had a bad time afterwards. Advances are being made all the time, slowly but surely. As usual the frontline trenches and all approaches
are ghastly.

Nearly all the old Broadmeadows' men I knew are gone now.

The barrages have all moved forward from their positions during our previous experience, but are still heavy and effective. Fritz used no gas shells this time but searched persistently for our guns with indirect fire, without any success. The churned-up country round our previous positions has had rain on it and is already becoming green, also some of the leafless woods are making another effort to put forth leaves. All the strip between our second line and their second line, including No Man's Land is a bare, contorted, shell-holed, wilderness, and looking across towards Thiepval it is hard to realise that a village once stood there, though it is not anything like as dismantled as Pozieres; and one row of trees still has a few leaves on it. The country up towards Courcelette, though banged about a bit, is green, and by contrast with the battle zone, pleasant to look upon. I had a stroll through Contalmaison one afternoon lately. It is destroyed but not absolutely disintegrated. It was not fortified to the same extent as Pozieres. In the latter place I doubt whether one brick still stands on another. Mouquet Farm is in a similar. condition. I had great difficulty in recognising it and a small quarry just below it.

Through all their barrages and shell fire our infantry go through awful saps or over land; always they go steadily forward, and even in places where few remain, they fight on and hold what they have won. Our boys view the machine guns great favor these days compared with old Gallipoli times. Our artillery guns, of course, move forward more or less correspondingly with the front line which now consists mainly of shell holes sometimes not even linked up. It has rained again too, converting everything into mud.

We are out of range now and will continue to move on by stages as usual…’

Strangely, Reg made no mention of having been wounded during action at Pozieres, nor of his work during the initial stages of the battle that would result in him being awarded the Military Cross. The official citation read:

‘…For conspicuous good service since arrival in France. Under fire shows exceptional coolness, and has set a very fine example to his men. Also for gallant and valuable work during period 26th to 28th July at Pozieres, where he occupied a very exposed machine gun position which was continuously and heavily shelled. On 28th July, when his other section leader was badly hit, Lieut Callister, although himself wounded in the back, remained at his post and carried on…’

By the time he wrote to Minnie his transfer to the 6th MGC had been completed and, on 4 August, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant.

The New Year began well with news that Reg had been conferred with the Military Cross. A transfer to the Machine Gun Training Depot at Grantham in England saw him spend most of the year instructing new recruits; and Reg did not resume regimental duty until 19 June 1918.

On 7 July 1918 Reg took command of his company and was given the rank of temporary captain during that period. He was wounded on a second occasion on 24 July, but once again remained on duty.

He relinquished the rank of captain on 7 August and returned to his duties as a lieutenant, responsibilities that included writing letters of condolence to the families of his men after they were killed. Reg took this task very seriously and went to great pains to provide as much detailed information as possible.

With the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front Reg continued to serve in France during the first few months of peace. He returned to England on 19 January 1919 to undertake general duties whilst he awaited passage home to Australia.

An unfortunate incident at the No2 Command Depot at Weymouth on 27 January was to prove the only black mark against Reg Callister’s military career. Private Henry Cuffe, a recalcitrant offender, was being held under arrest when he slipped away from the guard. As officer commanding, Reg Callister himself came under investigation. He was placed under open arrest and had to submit written testimony to the Court of Enquiry. After all the witness evidence was heard it was decided that Reg Callister was to be censured by the Commanding Officer of the No2 Command Depot.

On the 17 March Reg boarded the transport Plassy for the voyage home. Back in Ballarat he was appointed by the Advisory Bureau of Science and Industry to investigate the possible uses of pottery clays from around the Ballarat district. His metallurgical and chemical experience in Western Australia and during time spent in Ashanti saw him as the prime candidate for such a position. He was attached to his former school in Ballarat to conduct his investigations with the hope of establishing a pottery industry in the area.

On returning to Australia, Reg had left behind his fiancée, Ethel May Amos, from Shepshed in Leicestershire. Before the year was out, however, they would arrange through the Prime Minister’s Office for her to receive an assisted first-class passage to Australia. The couple were married at the Collins Street Baptist Church in the centre of Melbourne on 7 April 1920.

Whilst continuing to carry out his work at SMB, Reg also became a director at the Ballarat YMCA. He also undertook a special visit to the “war graves of France” where he made numerous photographs to help illustrate lectures upon his return to Australia.

On a more personal note, Reg and Ethel had eagerly anticipated the birth of their first child in January 1921; sadly, baby Molly was to live only a short time before dying on 17 January. On 3 February 1922, Reg and Ethel welcomed their second child, another daughter who they named Margaret Alice. A third daughter, Helen Muriel, was born in the Melbourne suburb of Armadale on 22 Jul 1925.

In 1927 Reg and his wife, along with their two young daughters, travelled to England, where Reg had been sent on behalf of the Bureau of Science and Industry to undertake studies under the esteemed English scientist, Doctor Joseph Mellor, at the pottery school in Stoke-on-Trent.

The Callisters returned to Armadale in late 1927, where, on 27 January 1928, Reg and Ethel celebrated the birth of their only son, John Keith.

Continuing to work as a chemical manager, Reg moved his young family to the Sydney suburb of Kogarah, before they finally settled in nearby Bexley.

During World War II, Reg once again volunteered for duty. He enlisted at Arncliffe, New South Wales, on 31 March 1942. He went on to serve for over three years as a captain in the volunteer Defence Corps. The death of his young nephew, Flight-Sergeant Ian Callister, 21 year-old son of his brother Cyril, during action over New Guinea on 5 November 1943, was a particularly sad blow to the Callister family during this time.

Reg settled back into his pre-war life and continued to work almost up until the time of his death on 21 Sep 1971.




"...811 Private Reginald Clive Callister, 21st Battalion, of Shepparton, Vic. Pte Callister enlisted on 5 February 1915 and was later commissioned as a lieutenant. He received the Military Cross (MC) on 1 January 1917. Lieutenant Callister returned to Australia on 17 March 1919." - SOURCE (