John “Jack” Chalmers GC (AM exchanger)

b. 11/03/1894 Wellington, New Zealand. d. 29/03/1982 Bondi, Australia.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 04/02/1922 Coogee Beach, Sydney, Australia.

John “Jack” Chalmers (1894-1982) was the eldest of four children born to professional cyclist Jack and Louise Chalmers (nee Seager) on 11th March 1894 in Wellington, New Zealand. They moved to Australia to live when Jack was 12 years old in 1906. They moved again two years later further north to Queensland. He was educated at Mosman Superior Public School.

John “Jack” Chalmers GC

On the 5th October 1915, aged 21, he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force in Queensland, joining the 47th Battalion in Egypt. He later moved to France with the rest of the 12th Brigade, 4th Australian Division. He served as a Medical Orderly until the Battalion disbanded. He returned to Australia in July 1919 and was discharged from the Army the following month.

Jack then met and married an English girl named Jessie Courtney and brought her back to Australia to settle and they had two children, Jack Jnr and Phyllis. Jack joined the North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club in August 1919 and obtained his Bronze Medallion on the 11th January 1920. He would win the Australian Life-Saving Belt Championship in 1922.

On 4th February 1922, off Coogee Beach, Sydney, a swimmer named Milton Coughlan was attacked by a shark, which bit deeply into his left forearm. Chalmers, observing from the shore, immediately had a rope tied around his waist and, although he slipped and banged his head on a rock, he dived into the sea, swam out to Coughlan, who by now was floating helplessly in the water; he grabbed him round the body and held onto him while they were pulled back to shore. Coughlan sadly died from his injuries after arriving at hospital.

Chalmers was awarded the Albert Medal on 7th July 1922 and it was presented to him by the Lieutenant Governor Sir Philip Street. He was also made a Life Member of the Surf Life Saving Club, received Gold Medals from the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society, Meritorious Awards from the Surf Life Saving Association, Commendation certificates from the Royal Life Saving Society and diamond studded medals from the Hon. HD McIntosh.

He ran his own business transporting produce around New South Wales. Later in life, he worked for Storey & Keers in Balmain. He chose to exchange his Albert Medal for the George Cross in 1971. He went on to receive a 50 Year Service Award from the Surf Life Saving Association. A testimonial fund reached about A$10,000. Chalmers passed away on 29th March 1982 in Sydney, and he was cremated at Waverley Crematorium, and in accordance to his wishes, his ashes were scattered in the sea off Bondi Beach. His George Cross is privately held. His name is on the Honours Board at the Bondi Junction Waverley RSL Branch HQ, and a plaque on the GC Memorial in Canberra.





Thomas Stewart – Image of the Jack Chalmers GC medal group at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Australian War Memorial – Image of Jack Chalmers GC.