Like many brave Australians, during WW1 William Schmutter was eager to do his part for his country and lied about his age in order to be eligible to enlist. However, unlike many young Australians, William did not change his date of birth to make himself older, but rather the opposite.
Kate Mills, an Ancestry.com.au member, was not aware her family had any military history until she accidentally stumbled upon an old photograph during her research. She uncovered a large family photo showing her great-great grandfather William sitting at the centre of a group of family members wearing a military uniform. The photo had been taken in 1916, just before he went off to war.
She found this a bit confusing, as William was born in 1859, which meant he was almost 60 years old in the photo. Knowing that the Army did not accept recruits of that age, Kate was faced with a new family mystery. Armed with photographic evidence, Kate focused on searching for military records about her great-great grandfather. She searched for William Schmutter in the military records but uncovered nothing. Dedicated to unravelling the truth, Kate searched for variations of names and eventually he appeared under William Smutter. A possible reason for dropping the ‘ch’ in Schmutter might have been to de-Germanify his name.
The puzzling discovery about William was that he listed his age as 44 years and 4 months at the time of his enlistment. Why would someone make themselves younger to enlist? A number of theories have been floated around, yet ultimately the secret of why he lied about his age to enlist is buried with him. There is no doubt that he was a brave soldier who served overseas as a driver for two years. He was injured and transferred to a hospital in France, then England and was eventually discharged on 8 April 1918.
In the end, for whatever reason William chose to lie about his age and join his fellow countrymen overseas, he is an ANZAC we can be proud of.