ABORIGINAL SERVICE IN WW1: 151 NAMES ADDED TO THE GROWING LIST OF AIF VOLUNTEERS

During the past two years we have been concentrating our efforts on expanding the number of known men of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage who volunteered to serve in the First World War.

Below are the names of 151 additions to the list published in June 2015 in the third edition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF: The Indigenous Response to World War One. This named total enlistments as 945, a number which was subsequently slightly lowered in the light of fresh information.

The men named here are those who volunteered to serve in the AIF. Their records are contained in the collection of the National Archives of Australia in series B2455 First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers and series MT1486/1 Applications to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. Those with records in MT1486/1 were unsuccessful as were a small proportion of men in series B2455. The men whose records are located in MT1486/1 are indicated by an asterisk*.

A complete list of men identified by Indigenous Histories will be published in the future in indigenoushistories.com. This list will be prefaced by a detailed explanatory note and will be updated as the continuing interest in Aboriginal service results in the discovery of the names of additional servicemen.

While the majority of the new names posted here have been the result of research by Indigenous Histories we would like to thank those who have shared their research or given advice including Michael Bell Indigenous Liaison Officer and Margaret Beadman, Australian War Memorial, Des Crump, State Library of Queensland, Sandra Smith, Dubbo NSW and Peter Bakker, Cranbourne Victoria.

NOTE

Identification has been made from publicly available primary and secondary sources and family members. However we welcome corrections. As always, we also welcome information about the service of men so far unacknowledged.

Some issues relating to heritage and identification are addressed in Understanding the Numbers.

Each of the following names is accompanied by a service number. Where a second number appears in brackets this reflects the number named by the National Archives of Australia in June 2017 in NAA’s online database RecordSearch. This can differ from the most relevant number contained in a service record itself. When searching for a record in RecordSearch the number in brackets should be used.

Philippa Scarlett and Christine Cramer

15 June 2017

 

ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER VOLUNTEERS FOR THE AIF IDENTIFIED SINCE JUNE 2015.

ANDERSON Robert Q22911 Depot (Q22911)

ARAN William N6516 (6519)

AULTON Gordon N/A *

AYLETT Claude 41

AYLETT Cyril 63236

AYLETT Lindsay 2288B

BAKER Walter James Depot

BEALE Samuel Edward Depot

BRETT John George 1886

BRETT John George 3251

BREWHOUSE James 4028

BRIGHT Stanley 4535 (2295 4535)

BROWN William Stanley 52635

BUDDSWORTH Joseph William 3971A (AKA Joseph William Hamilton)

BURNEY William 1821

BURNS John 1875

BURNS Thomas 1874

BURNS Sidney N/A *

CARTER Jack Depot

CHAPMAN Robert Arthur 2989

CLARK William N/A*

CLARKE Frederick 3693A

CLATEWORTHY Robert 1699A (AKA Robert Clatworthy)

CLEMENTS Ernest N/A *

COLLINS George 1621

COPLEY William Harold 5839/8840

DALEY William 3636

DAVIS Arthur John 2648

DAVISON Charles Henry Depot

DELANEY Myers N78126 (N/A)

DIXON James Depot

DUNCAN Bruce Stanford 57536

EDWARDS John Goldsmith Claude 5086

EDWARDS Lance Hampton 5087

FARRELL Richard Alfred 3618

FINLAY Willie N/A *

FINN Joseph Harold Roland N/A *

FLETCHER Joseph 435

FRANCES William Lindsay 3637

FRENCH Arthur John N/A *

FRENCH Percy Alfred 3295

GALVIN William John 1132 (record amalgamated with WW2 NAA record N42544)

GARNER Robert George 5105

GRAHAME James Depot (N/A)

GREEN Amos Depot N94991 (Depot 94991)

GREEN Clarence Clifton 6014

GREEN Harold Marcus 603 (Depot 56112 603)

HAMILTON Henry Claude 3162A

HAMILTON Herbert 3742

HARPUR Patrick Bertrand 2431

HARWARD Arthur Walter 17209

HARWARD Robert Percy 443

HEARN George 5352

HICKEY George William N/A *

HICKEY John 3041

HILL Percy 139

HITE Charles Ethelbert 2843

HITE Edgar William 2844

HITE John 411

HOOD John N/A *

JACKSON Charles N/A *

JACKSON Oswald N/A *

JONES David John 1677

JONES Sydney Gerald 1573

KELLY Edward 1986

KENNEDY Francis N84988 (first enlistment as Samuel Francis Kennedy N/A*)

KENNEDY Phillip N/A *

KING Charles Roy 804

KNIGHT Lilley 4529

LATWOOD Charles 5424

LEANE Edmund William N/A *

LONGBOTTOM Clarence N/A *

MAKINSON John 2184A (2184)

MARKS William N/A *

MASON Allan 1962

MASON Leslie 3412

MAURER Cecil Samuel 259

MAYBURY Edward N51831

McCARTHY Herbert 698 744

McCARTHY John Joseph James 257

McCARTHY John Thomas 3195

McFARLANE Robert Alexander Malcolm 1708

METHMEN Charles 6801

MORGAN Albert Joseph N/A *

MORRIS William Albert N/A *

MUIR Charles Andrew 55667

MURRAY Norman N/A *

MURRAY Percival Harry 1948

MURRY Walter Patrick N/A *

NEVILLE John Q20765 Depot (20765)

PEARCE John 5954

PETERS Harry N/A *

POWELL John 497

PURVIS Harold 2728

PURVIS John N/A *

RAWSON Alfred Chas N/A *

RAWSON Alfred Ernest 3339

READ William N/A *

REAKES Clarence Lancelot 5098

REAKES Leslie Marmaduke 2209

REAKES Mervyn Royal 1979

RICHARDS George Henry 601

RICHARDS John Alfred 602

ROE Cornelius Edwin 5187

ROGERS William Edward 68001

ROSE James Wallace N/A *

RUSSELL Daniel N/A *

RYAN George 57261 (Q23574)

RYAN Alfred James 1802

SHERRY Denis 2179

SIMPSON Charles Arthur 8969

SINCLAIR Arthur Smith 7776A (7776)

SINCLAIR Francis Darcy 2169

SINCLAIR Henry Edgar 2158

SMALE Walter Edward 794

SMITH Hugh Percival N/A *

SMITH William N12253 (Depot 12253)

SOLOMAN Harry N/A *

SORBY Charles Depot

SORBY Joseph Henry George 551

STAFFORD Walter James 1310

STAFFORD William Henry 1909

STEWART Herbert Robert Depot (7448)

STEWART Robert N94031 (Depot 94031)

STEWART Sidney Harold 899

SULLIVAN Sylvester 7879 (AKA Samuel Brown and Darcy Wills)

SUSAN Alfred 1406

TAYLOR William 2259

TIGHE William James 57648

TRINDALL William Buckingham N/A *

UPRIGHT Charles N/A *

URQUHART Edward 3294

WALKER Robert William Q20346 Depot (Q20346)

WALLACE George Percy 1931

WALLACE William John N88878

WALSH Arthur 2050

WALSH Charles 24222

WANDIN Frank N/A *

WATTS Norman Alfred Henry 2667

WESTBURY John James 2206

WESTBURY William Charles 421

WHEATLEY George Robert 1833

WHEATLEY David Walker Marshall Robert 326 and 6876 (AKA Weekley)

WHEATLEY William Henry Kenneth 1593 and 6146

WIDDERS Claude 66289

WIDDERS Reginald Ralph  N95859 (95859)

WIGHTON James N/A *

WILLIAMS Archie N/A *

WILLIAMS Arthur Edward Depot

WILLIE Sandye Q23125 Depot (Depot)

YEO William Henry 3516

 

 

 

 

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ALFRED ‘TINY’ RYAN : THE BOXING SOLDIER

Peak Hill - Bogan River Tribe 1898 ryan.jpg

Bogan River Tribe 1898 from the family album of Charles Jepson Morris, courtesy of grandson Bert Morris. Collection of the Local History Room, Narromine Library.        Alfred Ryan is the small boy seated on a log.

Sometime after 1917 the remains of an Australian soldier buried at Glencorse Wood Belgium, were identified as those of Alfred James Ryan, service number 1802.  Included with evidence which led to this identification was the presence of a colour patch with the letter A. This, even without service details, indicated that he had served at Gallipoli. In 1917 the Australian government legitimised the wearing of the A for Anzac badge to show that the wearer had taken part in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, a practice which had already taken hold and one which showed the significance this campaign had come to represent within the AIF.

A FOR ANZAC BADGEC AWM

The A for Anzac badge on a colour patch of a member of the 6th Light Horse in the collection of the Australian War Memorial.

Alfred Ryan, a shearer, came from the Peak Hill area of New South Wales. He volunteered on 29 January 1915 and sailed with the 4th reinforcement of the 3rd Battalion later transferring to the 2nd Battalion. He reached Gallipoli on 26 May and shortly afterwards sustained a wound to the head requiring hospitalisation and recuperation in Alexandria. By November 1916 he was in France and had transferred again, this time to the 1st Machine Gun Company. He served with this unit until his death on 25 September 1917 – not far from the Ypres-Menin Road. He was 25 years old. Ryan’s Gallipoli service places him among the possibly 70 Aboriginal men now known to have served in this campaign.

Few letters from Aboriginal servicemen are known to exist today – included amongst them are some from Ryan. This is in no small part connected with his career as a boxer (fighting under the name Tiny Ryan) which was taking off in the years before he enlisted. Headlines in the Dubbo Despatch and Sydney Sun relating to Ryan’s war service ranged from TINY RYAN, TINY RYAN WOUNDED and BOXERS IMPRESSIONS and attest to the public interest in him as a boxer during his service with the AIF, an interest which led to the publication of his letters written from abroad to friends in the boxing world.

This was summed up by the Referee’s correspondent W F Cordett in an emotional and shocked column on learning of Alfred Ryan’s death. (Referee 14 November 1917 p. 9)

Tiny was a personality, he was in the public eye. He was also one of our best correspondents. We had a letter recently from him, and he was keeping us in touch with the rest of the boys from here who were doing their bit on the other side…Tiny gone -Tiny, the merry-faced, laughter-loving, light-hearted big boy – for he was only a boy – gone. It seemed incredible. Why, in his last letter, brimful of humor and breezy optimism, he had told us that he must have a charmed life. ‘I don’t think I shall ever get killed,’ he jocularly wrote, ‘as I am what you might term a Shell Diviner, but one may get in some way some day, and I suppose it will be ‘Close the gates for Tiny.’

Ryan’s letter to W F Cordett published in August 1915 (Sun 15 August 1915, p.14) printed under the heading BOXER TINY RYAN WOUNDED, gives an account of some of his experiences on the Gallipoli peninsula.

The well-known N.S.W western district heavyweight Tiny Ryan is lying wounded at Heliopolis, Cairo. His letter to me, dated June 26th supplies the following address, which I give in the hope that some of his friends may write to him: No 180 [2] 2nd Battalion 4th Reinforcements, A.I.E.F, 1st Brigade, Egypt.

He says: “Since my last letter to you from on board the transport I have had pneumonia, got better, went over to the Dardanelles, and have been wounded, and I am once more back in Cairo, and am getting along famously since an operation upon my head. I was in the main firing line trench on observation post at about 3 o’clock in the morning, and had been relieved just at that time by the second post. I stood talking to him, telling him of a sniper who had been firing point blank at our position all the morning from the right of the Turkish trenches, and to be careful not to put his head above the parapet. It was then the Turks’ guns started a bombardment of our trenches. They blew sandbags down all round us, and nearly smothered some of the boys. They had got the range to a nicety of one of our guns, which they managed to put out of action, killing the corporal in charge. We were all down in a minute. A shell burst along the main trench, and I was hit by a piece of it, which knocked me flat. I did not feel any pain till after I was dressed, and then a swelling started, which nearly drove me off my nut — that is all I felt I had left of it, for I thought half my head had gone. However, I was taken along with a good number of other wounded boys on board a mine-sweeper over to Lemnos Island, then we were put on the boat Tranconia and brought to Alexandria, and thence here by train. I was given the best of treatment, and dined right royally on chicken every day, and plenty of custard. We are getting well looked after in the hospital.

His praise for Australian was not one eyed and he also refers to New Zealanders:

The landing took place within half a mile of where thousands of Greeks were simply massacred trying to force a landing which they never succeeded in doing some time back. We are strongly entrenched on the Peninsula now – inland about two miles – with the New Zealanders on our left flank. They are deserving of equal praise.

Moreover he draws attention to the Greeks and to the part played by the men of the Indian mountain batteries, who he says ‘give the Turks some hurry up when they send a 12-pounder in among them’. His reference in this June letter to the Gallipoli landing, only one month after it occurred, demonstrates clearly that it had already gained a grip on the consciousness and sense of history of the men who were there.

The landing at Gaba-tepe, I suppose is just as well known to you as it is to us here, only we have really been on the soil where it took place — never to be forgotten ever in the history of the world. Australia may well be proud and boast of her loyal sons.

We are indebted to Ryan’s skill and reputation as a boxer for the preservation of his contribution to the scant collection of letters which are available from the Aboriginal men who served in the first AIF. In fact without his public boxing profile it is very likely his informative letters may not even have existed – written as they were to boxing connections – let alone survived. It seems something of an irony that Aboriginal men have always achieved publicity in the mainstream world as sportsmen – particularly boxers – when other Aboriginal fighters, the men who volunteered and fought in a different arena as Australian soldiers, have not fared so well. In Tiny’s case, his engagement in both these arenas has led to the creation of a valuable and lasting written record.

Philippa Scarlett

25 April 2017

I am indebted to the research of Sandra Smith of Dubbo and to Christine Cramer who  drew my attention to the service of Alfred Ryan.

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DON ELPHICK: HIS CONTRIBUTION TO ABORIGINAL HISTORY

riverina-aboriginal-cover

I was saddened to learn at Christmas of the death in September of Don Elphick. Don was known to the wider community for his role in rugby league football and described in an online obituary as ‘an instrumental part of the Canberra Raiders formation and entry into the NSWRL for their debut season in 1982, after a long and distinguished period with ACT rugby league.’ but his lasting legacy for many will be his publications, with his Wiradjuri wife Bev, of information relating to New South Wales and in particular Wiradjuri Aboriginal people. These include Riverina Aboriginals http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/2903590?lookfor=d%20elphick&offset=4&max=40, Camp of Mercy http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/3080605 and an index to Aboriginal people mentioned in surviving Protection and Welfare Board minutes http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/1906858?lookfor=d%20elphick&offset=9&max=40 . His research started as a project to locate the missing sister and brothers of his mother in law Flora, born Smith. The Smith children were taken from Warangesda mission and sent to Cootamundra Girls home in 1921 – the two boys then transferred to Kinchela Boys Home. Bev’s mother was able to survive – in itself a very difficult story – but knew nothing of the fate of her siblings. Don by brave and persistent research located Lillian Smith as a very old woman in a Katoomba boarding house – demented and living in the past she could not recognise or relate to Flora as the little girl she remembered as her 6 year old sister. The tragedy was that the Board had consistently untruly told relatives seeking information about her that there was none. Don did track down one brother Clarence but by then he was dead. He was never able to find Bruce Shannon (Fred) Smith. Despite this he continued to pursue his research in the interests of other Aboriginal people and there are many today both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal including me who have benefitted inestimably from his efforts. Just one aspect of this has been the identification of Aboriginal servicemen which in many cases could not have been achieved without his research.

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POW, SECOND ANZAC FORCE VETERAN AND DARUG DESCENDANT: WALTER HENRY STEILBERG

When war broke out in September 1939 Australia did not hesitate to join Britain in her opposition to Hitler and Nazi Germany. The second AIF or Australian Imperial Force, comprised like its predecessor solely of volunteers, was immediately formed and one of those men who were quick to offer their services was Walter Henry Steilberg. He volunteered aged 21 on 7 November 1939 and served as NX1164 in the 2/1st Field Company, Sixth Division. The Sixth Division progressively captured Bardia, Tobruk, Derna and Benghazi from January 1941 in the first Libyan campaign before being sent to Greece in March of that year. Here they were to support the Greeks against the Germans invading from Yugoslavia but it was from the start a hopeless task. The inevitable defeat and evacuation, for Australia alone resulted in the loss of 320 lives and the capture of 2,065 men. One of these prisoners was Walter Steilberg. He refused to accept his situation and in the following years escaped six times from POW camps and work parties. He recalled his motivation and determination later in life when he said ‘I made up my mind I’d beat them in the end and I’d be a free man by the end of the war’. (Peter Neave Aussie Soldier Prisoners of War p.280). To punish his continued attempts to seek liberty he was sent to the Nazi concentation camp Terezin in Czechoslovakia. His experience and the brutalities he witnessed there have been documented in newsprint, film and books.

walter steilberg Canberra Times

Walter Steilberg, Canberra Times 15 February 1987 p.18.

After the war he was amongst those who received the British Empire Medal in 1947 for their attempts to escape from German custody. However his experience in Terezin was unrecognised for forty years because the camp was not accessible to the Red Cross and no records existed of the presence there of prisoners of war. Finally, after  forty years, the Australian Government granted individual compensation of $10,000 to him and the few others like him.

Writing on the prisoner of war experience in 2011 Peter Monteath (POW: Australian Prisoners of War in Hitler’s Reich p.312) reports an exchange between Steilberg and a German officer early in his captivity: ‘Australian aren’t you? Why aren’t you black?’There was a considerable degree of irony in this question. What is today not well known is that Walter Steilberg was a direct descendant of Yarramundi chief of the Boorooberongal clan of the Darug – traditional owners of the Sydney basin. A meeting between  Yarramundi and Arthur Phillip, Governor of New South Wales was recorded by Watkin Tench on 13th April 1789.(Sydney’s First Four Years pp.229-30). His Aboriginal family’s record of service was an extensive one. His great uncle Jerome Locke was a member of a colonial unit, the Windsor Volunteer Corps – and with two of his sons served in France with the first AIF. Walter Steilberg’s great uncles Walter and Norman Sims were also members of the AIF – in fact in total 27 members of his Lock and extended Lock family volunteered for the First World War and most went on to serve in the Middle East, France and Belgium. Not only this but William Stubbings, son of his great grandfather’s sister Martha Lock, was a member of the 3rd New South Wales Mounted Rifles and served in the Boer war.

The  Greek campaign was the first time Australian and New Zealand units had fought together as an Anzac force since Gallipoli. In 1915 Walter’s cousins Henry James Locke and Alfred Frederick Bolton were part of the first Anzac force. In 1941 Walter Steilberg became part of its second incarnation.

walter steilberg from karen steilberg resize 2

Walter Steilberg wearing his campaign medals. His British Empire Medal is on his right. Courtesy Karen Steilberg

Walter Steilberg was not the only member of the Lock family to serve in the Second World War. Others included his brother Charles. However few after reading about what he saw and endured could argue that his experiences were not amongst the most challenging.

Philippa Scarlett

29 May 2016

Thank you to Walter’s daughter Karen Steilberg for permission to write about her father and to Walter’s niece Liz Locke, daughter of Charles, who first told me about Walter’s history.

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THE ABORIGINAL FIRTHS: AN UNUSUAL ANZAC CONNECTION

ERNEST FIRTH PHOTO state lib nsw  for blog

Ernest Firth  Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

In 1918 the Trustees of the Mitchell Library appealed to families for photographs of men who had served in the AIF. Aboriginal families were amongst those who responded and the collection which eventuated contains images of men from the Lock, Wortley, Stafford, Duroux and Firth families. The Library also sought letters and diaries and contributors included the mother of the Firth brothers – Ernest James, Francis Walter Bertie (known as Bertie) and Charles Allen, bush workers from Pilliga, New South Wales. Such records for Aboriginal families are rare and apart from the letters of Charles Blackman, now in the Australian War Memorial, to date these may be the only publicly available records of this nature.

The Firth’s records are unusual also because of another fact relating to their service. While two brothers served with the AIF, Charles who was shearing in New Zealand before enlistment became a member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The three brothers served with Light Horse, Machine Gun and Transport units in the Middle East where Ernest Firth was killed on 3rd November 1917 at Tel Khuweilfeh. Bertie Firth went on to serve in France. However while Ernest is amongst those Aboriginal service men listed by the RSL journal Reveillle in 1932 – the names provided by police and mission managers did not include those of his brothers. In Charles’ case this is understandable but Bertie’s omission underlines the hit and miss nature of the collection process.

The letters from the Firth brothers, now available on the website of the State Library of New South Wales, are written to their mother Catherine and show a constant thread of warm family relationship, nostalgia for home and the trials of missing mail  – subjects which so often feature in wartime correspondence. They also show that the brothers were in touch with each other and tried to keep abreast of each other’s locations and movements, which in turn they relayed to their mother.

This is evident in a letters written in May and November 1916 from Ernest, which as well as general information about his part in the war, contain information about his two siblings and show a network of information sharing between  mates from both the Australian and New Zealand forces.

[15 May] We have been here about a fortnight and taking it all round we are not having a bad time Seemed strange to see the difference in the places on our way back. In a place where we had some of our heaviest fighting we had the pleasure of seeing a picture show in the Y.M.C.A. which of course we very much appreciated as its some time since I seen one I heard from Bert before we came here He was in hospital in France at time of writing. Have had two big goes with Abdul in the last two months And as I suppose you already he came off second best in both. I am sending a couple few of photos that Charlie gave me I will tell you what they are on their backs. Well mother I will close now. Hoping to hear from you soon. Best love to all at home … your loving son Ernie

[21 November] My dear Mother I cannot make out how it is I am not recieving any of your letters lately as I am sure you are sending them. They seem to reach Bert alright as I recieved a letter from him yesterday saying he gets his regularly enough. The only thing I can think of is that they are going to some other Firth in the light horse some where … Bert says he is O K and has been in the trenches for some time Have not heard from Charlie for a week or so He is only about 15 miles from here. I sent him a letter a few days ago and am expecting a reply any time now Seen some of his mates and gave them the letter They said he was well at the time’. Back out on the desert again and doing the same old work patrolling etc. We have no tents now but live in blanket shelters It would be rather amusing for you to see them the way they are built But they serve very well to keep the dew off at night as it falls very heavy now and is much colder .

Charles’ letters are less detailed but show he also sent photos home:

ca firth on horse negative

Charles Firth.  Image enclosed with a letter to his mother  Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

ca firth enveope addressed to  mother

well mother I ham sending you sum Photo of is on the desert I wood like to get back again to the old home and see all my old mates Dear Mother how is Dad and May I hope they are all well rembr me to all I remain your loving sun Trooper C A Firth

A letter from France written by Bertie in the last year of the war hints at more sober issues. (Although dated 1919 the details line up with the 1918 entries on his Service and Casualty record.)

My Dear Mother   Just a few lines to let you know that I am back again in France I had an enjoyable three months spell in England after my wound in the wrist I am O.K now. I recieved letters from you dated January 9 and none since then my letters must be going astray I am at our Base details Rouen am expecting to join my own unit any day now you had better keep writing to my address in England and I will be sure to git them, We have been having delightful wether over this side of the World but today has been a bit cold. I went to a quaint old Villiage church this a m it reminded me of the last time I was in church with you dear Xmas morning 1913 in Narrabri Things has changed a lot since then

In this closing comment Bertie seems to refer to his brother’s death as well as  reflecting on his whole experience of war.

The war certainly changed life for the brothers and their family. In January 1921 in a poignant letter to Senator Pearce, Minister for Defence  included with papers in Ernest’s service record, their mother summed up the current state of her family.

Thanking you very much for war book as my 4[th] son sleeps in Palestine Egypt My yung son CA Firth  in New Zealand yet cant get home for want of money My yungs [youngest] son FWB Firth been [?] sick in Sydney poor boy I and his father is old.

Both surviving brothers suffered from health issues on return from the war. Bertie said by his mother to be sick in Sydney was probably in the Randwick repatriation hospital. Charlie’s service record shows he was discharged in 1919 as medically unfit for further service. Writing to his mother from Auckland, New Zealand in May [192o?] he stated that I got no money to get my ticket for I cannot get eny and I not strong enoff to work and only for a frind I dont know whot I wood do. However his death registration in Narrabri near Pilliga in 1944 does show he eventually returned to his family.

The service of the Firths and the price they paid is one common to many families, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike, whose members served in the First World War. But for Aboriginal families the difference lies in the fact that legislation attempted (often unsuccessfully) to prevent Aboriginal men from serving their country and then post war the service of those who were able to do so was ignored. This is cause for reflection on Anzac day.

The term Anzac was originally used to describe the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – which was part of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. Today this word has evolved to describe any Australian or New Zealander who served in the First World War. The combined service of the Firth brothers with both the AIF and the NZEF – embracing both Australia and New Zealand – gives another dimension to their claim to this term and makes them unusual Anzacs.

Philippa Scarlett  24 April 2016

The service records of Ernest, Bertie and Charles can be read on the websites  of the National Archives of Australia and the Archives of New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

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UNDERSTANDING THE NUMBERS: THE REVEILLE LISTS AND ABORIGINAL MEN IN THE FIRST AIF

In 1931 and 1932, Reveille the journal of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, (the predecessor of the Returned and Services League and referred to as the RSL) published lists of Aboriginal men who served in the First World War. These lists named men from Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland and noted their service in a range of capacities – mainly infantry battalions and light horse regiments but also transport, signals, ambulance, engineers, artillery, remounts, machine gun companies and service corps. The publication was based on information received from state Aborigines Protection authorities and an appeal to readers. The interest this displayed was not isolated and was part of a wider movement in the 1930s to write about and document war participation and experience. The service of Aboriginal men was then forgotten and never part of Australia’s history of this conflict.

In the 1970s things started to change – if slowly – spearheaded by the discovery of the Reveille lists by military historian Dr Chris Clark and his important 1973 and 1977 articles drawing long overdue attention to Aboriginal service in the First World War. In 2015 Dr Clark revisited these lists in an attempt to explain the increase in number of Aboriginal soldiers which had escalated sharply from the 1980s.  His conclusions were based on careful deductions from the Reveille numbers – 289 (actually smaller because of repetition of names across and within state lists) in relation to the 1911 Commonwealth census which showed 75% of Aboriginal ‘half castes’ lived in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales. The remaining 25 % of men described in this way lived in the states not represented in Reveille’s 1931 and 1932 articles. This led him to estimate, by deduction that the number 289 from the eastern states reasonably could be seen in proportionate terms to represent 75% of the number of Aboriginal enlistments  nationally. This being so the number of men from the remainder of Australia would account for 25% of enlistments or a number of approximately 96. However he noted that the total of these two figures, 385, falls far short of the number of men now said to have served. It was on this basis that he concluded that many of the men named from the 1980s onwards, although undoubtedly of Aboriginal heritage, did not physically display their Aboriginality and that the increase in numbers must be because ‘many of the men now identified as Indigenous either did not know or acknowledge that fact at the time, or chose to conceal it’ and so are the result of what he calls ‘broadening the definition of Indigenousness’.

In the latest edition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF: The Indigenous response to World War One (to date containing the only referenced list of volunteers) I give figures suggesting that 759 men served overseas as opposed to a higher total number of volunteers, including those who were rejected or did not leave Australia. While the majority are from the states covered by the two Reveille lists, it does not automatically follow that the increase in numbers is the result of the recent identification of large numbers of men who were not recognisably of Aboriginal heritage. Although a lesser proportion of men do fall into this category, Dr Clark’s assertion is discounted by photographic evidence, information in service records and by other contemporary primary records and newspaper sources.  What is clear, however, is that the Reveille survey was even less reliable than assumed at the time and sometimes later – and as such is not a firm basis on which to project numbers.

There is considerable evidence to show that the lists from Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales are far from complete. There are no documents showing the way in which the Victorian and Queensland lists were compiled, but the records of the New South Wales survey have survived. These show that the names were sought by police stations across the state with the help of mission managers. It is likely that a similar approach was adopted in the other two states. The Queensland list bears this out. It not only contains men who were born and enlisted in New South Wales and the Northern Territory but also men for whom no AIF records can be located – suggesting that the names were the result of word of mouth searches. Moreover the total number of Queensland men listed in the 1931 Reveille, 154, (of whom only  109 actually enlisted from Queensland) is contradicted by a statement made in 1940 by the Queensland Department of Native Affairs about the service of what it referred to as ‘half- bloods’: ‘In the War 1914-1918 some 200 coloured people of whom this Department was aware, and there would be others, enlisted and served overseas.’ (NAA: MP508/1, 275/750/1310 Aborigines Enlisted in AIF).  The observation supports the contention that local inquiries rather than the records of the Chief Protector were the source of the names provided to Reveille. Just two of the Queensland men who were not listed by Reveille were Cyril Hylton Murray, whose photo appeared in the Queenslander in 1915 and Charles Alley , who with Martin Blyth was the subject of press and RSL attention in 1930, the year prior to the survey:

The bad old convict days ‘ of Australia are recalled by the banishment from the mainland ‘ to Palm Island of two half-caste aborigines — Martin Blyth and Charles Alley— both returned soldiers … the Returned Soldiers’ League in Northern Queensland are protesting “to the authorities, at what they call the ” barbarous treatment” of the two men. (Evening News (Rockhampton, Qld.) 17 May 1930:5.)

Of the two, Blyth was listed by Reveille and Alley was not, demonstrating the hit and miss nature of the name collection process. Similar comments apply to the Victorian list. Amongst others omitted  by Reveille were six Aboriginal men whose names appear on the honour board from the Lake Condah mission church. The Aboriginality of one of these Herbert Winter was noted as ‘complexion black’ in his service record.

It seems probable the background to some of the discrepancy lies in the fact that the efforts of the officials in NSW and elsewhere, well after the end of the war, were dependent not only on word of mouth but the collectors’ knowledge of the communities they were based in and the degree of application and interest which as individuals they brought to the task. Another indication of how unrepresentative the lists are can be seen in cases where only one brother of a number who enlisted is recorded, despite their enlistment often on the same day and with consecutive service numbers. These omissions can be found in all three states. In addition in some of the New South Wales correspondence, the reply to the official inquiries is demonstrably deficient in relation to Aboriginal men known to have served from a particular district. Surprisingly, too the New South Wales correspondence shows that not all the men whose names were reported by police were published in Reveille. There seems no reason for the omission of these names – possibly a slip up in the publication process – but it does highlight yet another weakness in the information provided to Reveille.

Relevant to men from all lists, but particularly for the larger states of New South Wales and Queensland, were the itinerant work patterns of bush workers which meant that they volunteered far from their original homes, sometimes in other states, making identification difficult or impossible and the fact that some men were loners, unknown in the communities they passed through and so unremembered. In other instances men and their families may have actively sought to keep under the radar of Protection authorities and police. A communication to the Inspector of Police, Broken Hill NSW dated 12 December 1931, from the constable at Ivanhoe, suggests some of the difficulties encountered by the name collectors, often faced with enormous patrol areas:

I beg to report that there are only two Aborigines within this patrol, whom the above mentioned Circular applies to and they are both absent droving somewhere in Queensland, and I have been waiting for their return. I have also been communicating with the Manager at Carowra Aborigines Reserve regarding this matter and the Aborigines cannot give any other information other than that they are returned soldiers.

In another communication, the manager of Angledool Aboriginal Station explained that  he ‘ found it very hard to get in touch with the people [he] named as they are on the move all the time and this information has been given by other people that are conversant with them.’ (AWM27:533/1 Returns showing particulars of men of Aboriginal parentage who enlisted and served with the AIF, presented by the Board for Protection of Aborigines, Sydney, 10 Aug 1932.).

The following indicative examples from New South Wales illustrate that men not recorded by Reveille came from differing locations and backgrounds. Walter Newton was born and lived in Corner country in the Broken Hill police patrol area but went to nearby South Australia to enlist as did other similarly located non-Aboriginal men. His Aboriginality was recognised in his attestation which recorded ‘complexion black’ and is discussed by Jeremy Beckett in Newton’s entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and an expanded article in Oceania. After discharge he returned to Broken Hill where he worked in the mines before resuming stock work. He also joined the RSL. Despite this he was not included on the Reveille list.

The identification of Aboriginal servicemen in the crowded environment of cities and their suburbs was similarly lacking. The police returns detailing men living in the Sydney area gave the names of three Aboriginal servicemen (Douglas Grant, Thomas Kelly and Tom Williams) but failed to identify amongst others Leonard Gilmore Smith, William Castles and Ewan Rose. Smith – also described in his attestation as ‘complexion black’ was from South Australia and living in Bankstown Sydney. There is no evidence that he was known to the Aborigines Protection Board, however William Castles, ‘complexion brown’ was a former Protection Board ward. He was a member of a family associated with the Plumpton and Sackville reserves and with his brothers, appears in the index to Protection Board minutes. Ewan Rose, awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre, an Aboriginal man from Queensland travelled to Sydney with a circus. He was befriended by a white family and lodged with them at St Marys before and after the war. His appearance is documented in David Huggonson’s Too Dark For the Light Horse photographic collection.

Particularly significant is the omission of William Irwin DCM, the only Aboriginal man to be identified by Charles Bean in The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. He was born at Coonabarabran and although he enlisted at Narrabri, his application to enlist was made at Moree which was also his postal address. His service record shows the presence of family in the Moree area and includes the results of a search in 1919 by the Moree police for family members eligible to receive his service medals and gallantry award. It also contains a 1936 letter from the manager of Quirindi Aboriginal Station about him, written on behalf of his brother. Despite all this in 1932 his name was not recorded in the New South Wales Reveille list.

These are all examples but not exceptions. I hope later to elaborate on this and to show even more clearly that the increase in number is not primarily the result of a changed perception of who may or may not have qualified at the time as an Aboriginal man according to the restrictive racist provisions of the Defence Act, its interpretation by recruiters or the community opinion reflected in the Reveille lists which included men described as both ‘half castes’ and ‘octaroons’. However the question pinpointed by Dr Clark remains, even given the difficulties faced by the Reveille collectors and their glaring omissions – that is what is the reason for the large discrepancy between the lists created in the 1930s and the much larger number of men of Aboriginal heritage now known to have served in the AIF?

The answer to this question lies primarily in the fact that the potential of word of mouth and memory available to police and managers to locate Aboriginal ex-service men, years after the end of the war, is hardly a match for the power of modern day printed resources and search engines. Since the early 2000s we have had the ability to read every AIF service record (available in the 21st century on the website of the National Archives of Australia) and to search for and read contemporary newspaper accounts via the National Library of Australia’s Trove digitised newspaper project. Combined with this is the easy access to a host of records including police records and photographs, and indexes and some records of Protection boards. All this is complemented by the growth in interest in Aboriginal family history and the availability of identifying photographs and family information via the public Aboriginal family trees displayed by ancestry.com. The growth in Aboriginal biography and autobiography and of Aboriginal history itself – so long excluded from mainstream history are also important factors. Put another way this assembly of weaponry dwarfs the limited resources of the officials who conducted the inquiries on which the Reveille lists are based and has resulted in the discovery of information which far outstrips that provided to the journal’s editor. This is not in any way to diminish Reveille’s importance. The 1931 and 1932 articles, with all their deficiencies, were crucial in demonstrating the service of Aboriginal men – and Dr Clark’s actions in realising their significance and rescuing them from oblivion, unquestionably give him the distinction of being the first Australian historian to recognise and write about Aboriginal service in the first AIF. However these lists are only one source and, as Dr Clark acknowledges, are a restricted sample and in the nature of a snapshot. Rather than being seen as the basis for estimating maximum numbers they point instead to the minimum number of Aboriginal men who served in the First World War.

Philippa Scarlett   27 March 2016

Thanks to Christine Cramer for her help particularly with numbers in this post.

The articles published in Reveille are ‘Many served: AIF Aborigines’, 30 November 1931: 22 and ‘Aborigines: N.S.W.’, 31 January 1932: 20.

 

 

Posted in WW1 | 4 Comments

IDENTIFIED! SOLDIER WHO LOST BOTH LEGS 1917

DOUBLE AMPUTEE AIF HORTON WAR HOSPITAL  2

In June 2013 I posted a photograph of a member of the AIF in a group of patients  from the Horton War Hospital, Epsom, City of London. The photograph was dated 4 April 1917. Close examination of this image shows that the soldier’s legs were amputated  below the knee. Although his identity was at that stage unknown, recent research by Christine Cramer has identified him as Thomas Rountree.

Identification has been guided by details in his service record which describe his injuries and the locations and dates of his treatment –  in particular his presence in 1917 at Horton War Hospital during the period the photograph was taken. Images of Thomas Rountree on public trees of the genealogy website Ancestry.com show the older Thomas Rountree, now equipped with artificial legs.

Thomas Rountree was 18 when he volunteered in 1916 and living in the Ballina area of New South Wales. He served with the 30th Battalion in France before being pronounced seriously ill with trench feet. His amputations, which  took place in two stages – the second and more drastic operation in August 1917 – were originally the result of complications, probably gangrene.  This was the family story  a grandson remembers hearing as a child .

He  returned to Australia in late 1917 and was discharged in February 1918 to resume  civilian life. This could have presented overwhelming difficulties to men with similar injuries. However in Thomas Rountree’s case he seems not to have been unduly held back by his disability. In 1923 he was commended for his bravery by a judge for giving chase on artificial legs to three thieves. He  had successfully captured one who assaulted and robbed his mate. He later married and in June 1941 was called up for the militia. Despite his lack of legs he served in the army  in a salvage and recovery unit until 1944 when he was medically discharged after developing a cyst on one of his stumps. At the time of enlistment he was living in Sydney, aged 43 with four children. He stated he was a blacksmith when he joined the first AIF but in 1941 gave his occupation as war pensioner.

The photograph taken at the Horton hospital is uncompromising about the injuries and medical procedures Thomas Rountree  had suffered: no hospital blanket or rug is draped across his white bandaged remnant legs which stand out in consequence. Perhaps it is a measure of his bravery, unwillingness to  compromise and strength of character that he allowed himself to be photographed so starkly. What is known about his later life supports his possession of these qualities.

Philippa Scarlett   

6 December 2015

 

Posted in Other non white Australians and the AIF, WW1, WW2 | 6 Comments