Section of the Australia National Boer War Memorial, Anzac Parade Canberra dedicated in 2017 Photo Ben Wrigley.

The upsurge in family history research in recent years has greatly assisted in the identification of the service of Aboriginal men in Australia’s conflicts. This has most recently been the case with an Aboriginal man from Western Australia who served in the Boer war.

The World War One service of the Aboriginal Dickersons was identified initially by Jan ‘Kabarli’ James (Forever Warriors 2010 pp.86, 87) and later augmented and clarified by family researcher Maureen Roberts.  Now another Dickerson related serviceman has been brought to light by family member Sue Mills, aided by Matthew Grice. But unlike the Dickersons, his service was a part of the West Australian colonial contribution to the war in South Africa.  Walter Joseph Parker, born 6 July 1874 in Gingin, was a half-brother of James and Harry Dickerson, members of the first AIF. The three men were the sons of Mary Benyup whose mother was Noongar woman, Caroline Benyup. Walter’s father Joseph Mortimer was a white man.  Sue Mills’ research shows that while his birth in 1874 was registered under the name of Walter Joseph Mortimer, he was baptised as Walter Joseph Mortimer Benyup. He subsequently became known as Parker following his mother’s marriage to John Selby Parker. Parker died in 1880 and Mary’s marriage three years later to George Dickerson to some extent later obscured her relationship to her children before this marriage.

Walter Parker initially sought to join the First West Australian Contingent but his attempt to enlist from Greenough was unsuccessful. (Geraldton Advertiser, 14 Feb. 1902, p.3)   However a second attempt at Coolgardie resulted in acceptance into the Fifth West Australian Mounted Infantry. On 7 March 1901, following their departure from Fremantle the previous day, the West Australian published the names of the officers and men of the Fifth Contingent (p.3). In this Walter is described as ‘Walter Parker, 26 years, Gingin (W.A.), labourer; Coolgardie. No previous service’ and is ascribed the number 30. Numbers in this list were not given to officers (who conventionally did not receive them), seemingly, indicating that this was a service number. A roll of Western Australian contingents in a History of Western Australian contingents serving in South Africa published 1910 lists Walter as a member of the Fifth contingent but contains no service number. However P. L. Murray compiler of the official record of the war published 1911 states his service number as 140 in a nominal roll of the Fifth Contingent (p.424).


The Fifth Contingent takes the road . Unknown location Western Mail, 16 March 1901,p.36.

The Fifth Contingent arrived in Durban on 28 March and after the arrival of the Sixth Contingent on 29 April, the two were combined. Murray records their service with Major General F. W. Kitchener’s column in the Eastern Transvaal, Natal, and Orange Free State and with Colonel Campbell’s, Colonel Benson’s and Colonel Wing’s columns in Eastern Transvaal (p.418, 419). Casualty records show that their twelve months service was not without penalty. Total Fifth Contingent casualties were ‘ One officer and six non-commissioned officers and men killed or died from wounds, four non-commissioned officers and men died of fever or other disease and nine of all ranks wounded. ’ (History of Western Australian contingents, p.60.) Both contingents returned to Australia in 1902 on the transport Columbian, arriving at Fremantle on 29 April. Walter was not among them. He had died of typhoid at Standerton, Mpumalanga on 22 January 1902.  His death was reported in a local paper The Geraldton Advertiser:

Mr Walter Parker, who was well known here, has died in South Africa from fever. Poor Walter was anxiously waiting for his turn to go to South Africa. He wanted to go badly with the 1st W.A. Contingent but did not seem to be able to get on, and till recently. Walter was strongly advised to stay on the Greenough. Like a good many more young fellows, however, he was anxious to see the Boers. (14 Feb.1902, p. 3.) 

The Boer war has been described as an economic war with little impact on Australia but one in which Australia as a member of the Empire chose to be embroiled and it is obvious Walter, like others, saw the war in simple patriotic terms. In something of an irony, in 1900 before he achieved enlistment, Walter donated five shillings to the Patriotic Fund, a fund set up for the relief of the relatives of soldiers killed on active service (Daily News, 6 March 1900 p.4). His donation reveals that he was aware of the consequences of enlisting .

In the years which followed, Walter’s death became linked to the First World War rather than the earlier conflict. The confusion had set in by at least 1927, when on the death of his mother, her slightly inaccurate obituary (Northern Advertiser, 16 February 1927 p.2) stated that ‘three of her sons went to war and two, Walter and John were killed’ leading to the assumption that both deaths were in the relatively recent First World War. In fact, while James Dickerson died from wounds received at Gallipoli, Walter’s death was in the South African war. In 2021 this mistake has been corrected by Sue Mills’ research. Walter Parker’s service entitled him to the Queens South Africa Medal with clasps for Orange Free State, Transvaal, South Africa 1901 and South Africa 1902. To date the whereabouts of this medal is unknown.

Aboriginal service in the Boer War was not officially barred and it was only in 1909 that an amendment to the Defence Act prevented men not substantially of European origin from serving their country.  It is hard to know to what extent Aboriginal men were excluded from enlisting for South Africa. Sue Mills has speculated this issue may have relevance to Walter’s first unsuccessful bid to enlist. If so, as was the case with recruiting for the AIF, it seems that success was linked to the decisions and prejudices of individual recruiters. Although Aboriginal man Fred Mead writing in the West Australian in 1901 said that he had been rejected (28 Nov 1901 p.5) the case of Jack Alick from Braidwood, New South Wales, a member of both the Colonial and Commonwealth forces, whose Aboriginality is clear in a contemporary photo in the Town and Country Journal, demonstrates that Aboriginality was not necessarily an unofficial bar to service. 

I first became aware of Aboriginal Boer war service in 1994 when investigating the New South Wales Darug Lock family and stumbled across the service of William Stubbings (Jim Kohen The Darug and their Neighbours, 1993 p.143). Since then eight more Aboriginal servicemen have been located, spear headed by the research of historian and Boer war specialist Peter Bakker. The discovery of Walter Parker brings the number to ten and also has significance as the first known death of an Aboriginal man during military service. The ten men have their origins across the Australian continent – in Western Australia, Souh Australia, New South Wales and Victoria and served in both the Colonial forces and after Federation in those of the Commonwealth. At least two photographs of Boer War units containing yet to be identified Aboriginal men,indicate the potential for numbers to increase and that current total of ten does not represent all who served.

Maureen Roberts who alerted me to the service of Walter Parker and Sue Mills who made this exciting discovery and who generously shared her detailed research, are to be applauded for bringing to light the hitherto largely forgotten service of Walter Parker and enabling him to take his place with those Aboriginal Boer war soldiers whose service is already recognised. Walter Parker is represented on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial. Now thanks to Sue Mills he can also be acknowledged as a Boer War Aboriginal serviceman.

Roll of Honour Card for Walter Parker

Post Script

Also descendants of Mary Benyup and serving in World War One were three of Walter Parker and James and Harry Dickersons’ nephews  – Aubrey Malcom Lawrence, and Herbert Hugo Lawrence (enlisted as Hubert Lawrence) and Frank Lawrence.  All five World War One men are listed in Philippa Scarlett Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers for the AIF : the Indigenous response to World War One latest edition 2018. National Archives of Australia records show that descendants of Mary Benyup continued to serve their country in Australia’s post World War One conflicts.

Philippa Scarlett

13 February 2021

I would like to acknowledge research by Sue Mills and her papers Mary’s Children and Walter Joseph Mortimer [AKA Walter Parker] Feb.2021 and research by Maureen Roberts including her paper Extract from my work in progress on the Dickersons.

Details of the Fifth Contingent mentioned here unless otherwise stated are to be found in Official records of the Australian military contingents to the war in South Africa. compiled and edited for the Department of Defence by Lieut.-Colonel P. L. Murray, R.A.A. (ret).Melbourne 1911 and the History of Western Australian contingents serving in South Africa during the Boer War (1899-1902) 1910.

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As a result of years of research Benita Parker has at last been able to solve one of the mysteries associated with Aboriginal war service.

The case of Jack Milton of Karuah has long puzzled those attempting to identify Aboriginal men who served in World War One. Despite numerous reports of his service it was impossible to locate his service record in the records held by the National Archives of Australia, the key to identifying him as a member of the AIF.


                               The War Memorial, Karuah New South Wales

However not only does his name appear on the Karuah (New south Wales) War Memorial but newspaper references and letters written by him to newspapers, as well as information in the Aboriginal magazines Our Aim and Evangel, taken together, provide an outline of his service. This is that he enlisted in 1915 and served two years in France as a private. Here he was wounded three times before being invalided home in late 1917, disembarking in Melbourne. These also show he married by 1915 and had one daughter born c.1916. He and his wife returned to Karuah after his arrival in Australia but no marriage or birth records in the name of Milton can be located.

As a result of investigations of genealogical and other sources Mrs Parker has amassed convincing evidence pointing to the enlistment of Jack Milton as John Edward Milligan, Service Number 4524. The service record of this man coincides with the known facts about the service of Jack Milton – although this shows he was wounded only once,  he was hospitalised three times. It is not uncommon for this information to become distorted, either intentionally or unintentionally. Milligan in his service record and elsewhere also says he was born in New Zealand and claims to be half Maori. His record itself states ‘half caste’ but this is crossed out. The New Zealand birth is contradicted by Mrs Parker’s research and by his statutory declaration made 1948 and included in his service record. It was not unusual for Aboriginal men to claim a Maori heritage which they thought would assist their successful enlistment. Mrs Parker’s research into the Milton family confirms Jack Milton’s Aboriginality.

Her research indicates Jack was known as Milton in Karuah but that in official documents like his service record and his land acquisition c 1920, shown in a 1920 Karuah Parish map, he used the name Milligan. He later moved to Sydney, when is unclear, but from correspondence in his service record this was sometime in the mid 1920s. The correspondence shows he probably spent the rest of his life in the inner Sydney area. Here he abandoned his wife and formed another relationship with a woman named Annie Luther. He died in Redfern, registered as Milligan in November 1954. His daughter Dorothy, described as Dolly Milton, is photographed as a student at Karuah school in 1924. Her birth in 1916, to father John E Milligan and mother Eva Woods is registered as Milligan. Whether the Karuah Aboriginal community knew he also used the name Milligan is not known but they consistently refer to him as Milton in references to him.

Mrs Parker’s research, which extends well beyond the brief outline detailed here, as well as solving what has been an ongoing puzzle, draws attention to two of the subterfuges which can bedevil the location of Aboriginal volunteers: false statements as to race and place of birth – and use of an alias. Both can prevent or delay recognition and obscure real identity and family connections. It also demonstrates the value of information in a service record in fleshing out a man’s life after return to Australia and providing a key to locating further information about him. Mrs Parker has made full use of these opportunities. Her current quest is to trace Jack Milton/Milligan’s descendants. She would welcome any information about Jack Milton/Milligan and his family. She can be contacted at

Identifying Aboriginal servicemen is in many cases not an easy task, particularly if complicated by the use of an alias or other false information. Unfortunately it is likely in many cases real identities may never be found. The seemingly impossible case of Jack Milton, unravelled so painstakingly by Mrs Parker, is a welcome success story.

Philippa Scarlett
13 November 2020

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Since the publication in April 2018 of Edition Four of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers for the AIF: the Indigenous response to World War One, more names of Aboriginal volunteers have come to light, from various sources. These include those with an ongoing interest: Sandra Smith of Dubbo, Des Crump and Marg Powell of the State Library of Queensland – and above all Leura historian Christine Cramer whose consistently detailed research has resulted in recent years in the inclusion of many who would otherwise have been unrecognised; also of  course the diligence of Michael Bell, Indigenous Liaison Officer at the Australian War Memorial, aided by his community contacts and position as a natural recipient of information from relatives. On the other hand the past year has witnessed the removal of a small number men from the list. This has usually been because, although not of European origin, their heritage has not been Aboriginal. In some of these instances the supposed Aboriginality of a man stems from marriage into an Aboriginal family, something which can obscure actual identity to descendants. In compiling the Indigenous Histories list Christine Cramer and I have endeavoured to maintain an independent position and have been acutely aware of the need to locate documentary evidence for Aboriginality (some of it an intersecting set of sources) rather than hearsay advice or acceptance based on the misinterpretations alluded to above.

Below are the names of 61 volunteers discovered in the last eighteen months. These, added to those listed in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers for the AIF take total volunteers to date to 1,127 men. Other totals often quoted are in excess of this number and the implication too is that all fought for their country. However  It is important to remember that not all volunteers were accepted into the AIF or if accepted served overseas. Those with N/A or Depot instead of a service number or a service number with a letter prefix, fall into these categories.  These men still deserve recognition because of their willingness to serve and are an integral part of the Indigenous response to World War One. Others currently counted in some publications on and off line, include those eliminated by Indigenous Histories because of identification issues already discussed.  Another relevant factor affecting number counts is that the Indigenous Histories list is one of volunteers for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and excludes the handful of Aboriginal men known to have served in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) or in Australia’s navy. These are referred to in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers for the AIF but not counted in the AIF volunteer list. The Indigenous Histories list also does not include men of South Sea Islander origin who by definition are not indigenous to Australia, although in many cases they have strong Aboriginal family ties. For all these reasons Indigenous Histories’ numbers are in some cases not as high as those often popularly quoted for Aboriginal service.

Despite the fact that they are  small in number in relation to AIF total enlistment, all these men are important because of the context in which they volunteered – that of racism and discrimination reflected in the Defence Act. Enlistment provisions were relaxed in May 1917, when a regulation was introduced to allow the enlistment of men with one white parent. However this did not increase Aboriginal enlistment, which like general enlistment was decreasing. Nor did it alter the racist intent of the Defence Act which remained unchanged. Known Aboriginal volunteers have increased dramatically in the last two decades, more than tripling in number. It is more than likely that additional names to those listed here will be located in the future.


Name and Service Number Place of Birth Enlistment Place Link to Record
ALDRIDGE Daniel Edgar 4011 Pialba Qld Maryborough Qld Service Record
ALDRIDGE Harry Edward 540 Maryborough Qld Maryborough Qld Service Record
CAREY Barnett Lucius 2601 Whittlesea Vic Melbourne Vic Service Record
CAREY Bertram Avenue Shier 49 Ferntree Gully Vic Melbourne Vic Service Record
CAREY Lucius George 3287 Carisbrook Vic Melbourne Vic Service Record
CAREY Victor Falkland 5803 Ferntree Gully Vic Melbourne Vic Service Record
CARROLL Alfred Lawrence 2232 Echuca Vic Bendigo Vic Service Record
CARTER Christopher Wilson 6232 Hamilton Vic Hamilton Vic Service Record
CLARKE Ernest V40075 (Depot 40075) Swan Hill NSW Bendigo VIC Service Record
CLARKE John Leslie 2349 Balranald NSW Cobram VIC Service Record
CLARKE Ottie 6713 Moulamein NSW Cootamundra NSW Service Record
COUZENS Nicholas N/A* Purnim VIC N/A Not Digitised
CURLEY Horace Basil Depot Northam WA Fremantle WA Service Record
DARE Thomas Depot Charlotte Waters NT Townsville Qld Service Record
DELANEY Abby (Albert) William Q13251 Auckland NZ [Aramac Qld] Brisbane Qld Service Record
DIAMOND John 3566 Kalgoorlie WA Heliopolis Egypt Service Record
DIXON Jack 5081 Dapto NSW Liverpool NSW Service Record
DIXON William 3734 Coolangatta NSW Casula NSW Service Record
DIXON William N/A* (first enlistment of William Dixon 3734) Coolangatta NSW N/A Not Digitised
DREDGE Charles N/A* Forbes NSW N/A Not Digitised
DREW Alfred William 3037 Goondiwindi (Gundiwindi) Qld Armidale NSW Service Record
DUNN Pompey N/A* Alice Springs NT Adelaide SA Not Digitised
ELLAIS (ELLIS) George 2356 Mungindi NSW Brisbane Qld Service Record
FLACK James William Allen 2332 Singleton NSW West Maitland NSW Service Record
HAYES Leslie James 1768 Robertson NSW Brisbane Qld Service Record
HAYES Walter George Mark Q13780 (N/A) Bowral NSW Brisbane Qld Service Record
HEREWANE Joseph 1013 Kaipoi NZ [Australia] Wangaratta Vic Service Record
HEWITT Oliver S12824 (Depot/12824) Goolwa SA Adelaide SA Service Record
JOHNSON Nicholas S1429 (Depot) Poltalloch SA Adelaide SA Service Record
JONES Arthur Bernard 463 WA [Sydney NSW] West Maitland NSW Service Record
JONES Samuel Joseph 1197 Sydney NSW Liverpool NSW Service Record
JORDAN Esbert Denis Roy 2953 Carcoar NSW West Maitland NSW Service Record
LENHAM Herbert Leslie 1174 Woonona (Wanoona) NSW Newcastle NSW Service Record
LENHAM Thomas Harold 823 Clifton NSW West Maitland NSW Service Record
LINDUPP John N/A* N/A [Vic] N/A [Vic] Not Digitised
LOWE Percy 2045 Busselton WA Blackboy Hill WA Service Record
McCART John Charles N/A* Bendigo Vic North Melbourne Vic Not Digitised
MILLER Joseph 6337 (alias of Donald Alexander Campbell) Melbourne Vic Melbourne Vic Service Record
NYBERG Reginald Cecil 2628 Milton NSW Holsworthy NSW Service Record
PERFECT William Alfred 3429 Rockhampton Qld Maryborough Qld Service Record
PHOENIX Logan John N82639 Newcastle NSW Sydney NSW Service Record
POLLOCK Frank 644 St. George Qld Warwick Qld Service Record
POLLOCK Walter 7291 Noondoo Station, Dirranbandi Qld Warwick Qld Service Record
SIMPSON George N/A* N/A [WA] Greenbushes WA Not Digitised
SINCLAIR Frank Pretoria 91543 (N91543) Robertson NSW Lismore NSW Service Record
SLEEWEE Thomas Q24823 Cairns Qld Cairns Qld Service Record
SMITH Edward James 2225 Qld Dubbo NSW Service Record
SMITH Harold William N/A (Depot) Albany WA Collie WA Service Record
SMITH Joseph 2474 (alias of Henry George Stafford) Gunnedah NSW Liverpool NSW Service Record
STENNER Charles Leslie N/A* N/A [address Goulburn NSW]  N/A Not Digitised
SULLIVAN John 7566 Deniliquin NSW Seymour VIC Service Record
SULLIVAN N/A* (first enlistment of John Sullivan 7566) Deniliquin NSW N/A Not Digitised
TEMPLETON Virgil Charles 5032 (alias Robert Taylor) Ipswich Qld Brisbane Qld Service Record
TIEDEMAN Otto Arthur 3693 West Maitland NSW Holsworthy NSW Service Record
WENBERG John William Clarence N/A* Grafton NSW Grafton NSW Record
WHARTON Ernest Oswald 4400 Walgett NSW Moree NSW Service Record
WHARTON Frederick Stanley 6530 Walgett NSW Charters Towers Qld Service Record
WHARTON Herbert John 2398 Narrabri NSW Moree NSW Service Record
WHATMAN William John 5199 Bowral NSW Liverpool NSW Service Record
WHATMAN William John 212 Moss Vale NSW Armidale NSW Service Record
WILLIAMS William 2672 Auckland NZ [Emmaville NSW] Sydney NSW Service Record
WILLIAMS William Henry N/A* Newcastle NSW N/A Not Digitised
WOOLLEY William James 2272 Echuca Vic Bendigo Vic Service Record

The details in this list are based on National Archives of Australia record descriptions from NAA series B2455 and series MT1486/1.  Volunteers named in MT1486/1 are indicated by an asterisk:  the symbol *.  Descriptions of records in these series are available online at  All records in series B2455 have been digitised but only a small proportion of those in MT1486/1.  (Where a record has not been digitised, a digital copy can be ordered on the NAA website.)

Service numbers are based on an examination of the entire contents of a service record.  Where a service number named here differs from the number named in an NAA record description, the NAA number is shown in brackets.  Place names are spelled in the conventional manner.  Where this differs from the record description, the latter also appears in brackets – for example Maloga and (Malaga).  In some cases a place of birth or enlistment is not included in the service record, or has been found to be spelled incorrectly or simply to be incorrect.  Where it is known, the correct information is provided in square brackets – for example Auckland NZ [Emmaville NSW].

Philippa Scarlett and Christine Cramer

5 October 2019


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NOTE: Spaces for advertisements currently disrupt this post. I am upgrading my Word Press account to eliminate these and other advertisements which have begun to appear in posts. PS

Michelle Flynn with her daughter, fourth and third from right  Koori Mail 2014 Naidoc

In 2014 Michelle Flynn entered and won a Canberra local radio competition – the prize a tour of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). After the tour she mentioned to AIATSIS staff the battered cricket case which she had inherited on the death of her grandfather Alf (Alfred) Stafford. This was to have enormous consequences. The case which referenced Alf’s enthusiasm for cricket (he bowled the first ball at Manuka oval, Canberra, played Sheffield Shield and played on the same side as Don Bradman) was stuffed with photos, letters and other documents and memorabilia, amongst which was a family tree. The information in this tree showed Alf’s descent from Kitty, known to be a member of the Warmuli (Prospect) Clan of the Darug and one of the children admitted in 1814 to Governor Macquarie’s Native Institution. Kitty later married convict Joseph Budsworth. Not only that, the tree showed that Alf descended from the New South Wales Gamilaroi Blackman family. Although Alf had told his family about his Aboriginality, they had been unaware of  its detail and extent. Now examination of information in his (and their) family tree has facilitated an exciting understanding of the family’s place in the Aboriginal history of New South Wales, one which they have embraced with pride and enthusiasm.

Michelle subsequently donated the case’s precious contents (now known as the Stafford Collection ) to AIATSIS. Initially its significance to AIATSIS was in large part the fact that Alf, an Aboriginal man, had been chauffeur to eleven of Australia’s prime ministers including Sir Robert Menzies, for whom he became a trusted confidant. However the wider significance of the family tree and the opportunities it gave for exploring more of the extended Stafford family were not lost on Michelle, who with help from family members, AIATSIS and others began unpacking the information in the tree and using it to extend and expand her family knowledge, including learning more about the Stafford Blackman connection. This stemmed from the marriage of John Allan Stafford, son of Joseph Stafford and Catherine Budsworth (daughter of Kitty and Joseph Budsworth) to Mary Ann Blackman (daughter of Gamilaroi Thomas Blackman).They were the parents of twelve children, the youngest Michelle’s grandfather. In the investigation process Michelle also found connections to the New South Wales Aboriginal families Cain, Griffin, Chatfield and Talbott.

In one area in particular the information uncovered was unexpectedly rich. A simple search of National Archives of Australia RecordSearch  shows the World War One AIF service of Alf’s brothers John Harold Stafford, Charles Fitzroy Stafford and Clyde Gilford Ortley Stafford.  Although Alf  himself was too young to serve in the first war his cricket case also yielded information about his inter war service in the in the militia.

alf stafford holsworthy

Alf Stafford Holsworthy army camp NSW   Courtesy Michelle Flynn, Stafford Collection, AIATSIS



John  Harold Stafford  (brother of Alf)  Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Additional research has led to the discovery, so far, of a total of 29 volunteers for  service in the First World War from the extended Budsworth/Stafford/Blackman and connected families – all but three serving overseas. These men are included in the list of men contained in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers for the AIF: the Indigenous response to World War One, fourth edition, (Philippa Scarlett), published in 2018 – with one exception, Henry George Stafford who served as Joseph Smith. His grandson Bill Reid only recently contacted Michelle to let her know that his grandfather enlisted under an alias and was actually a brother of Walter James Stafford and like him a first cousin of the Stafford brothers.

The service of these men, whose names are listed below, encompasses so many of the elements which make up the experience of all volunteers for the First AIF– the larrikin and other more serious misbehaviours which triggered punishments ranging from a few days detention or fines to the Field Punishment No 1 (being tied to a wheel) experienced by Joseph Smith aka Henry George Stafford as well as the damage to health which was characteristic of most volunteers. Records show that in almost all cases the group’s service was at physical cost to their well-being: they suffered from mumps, malaria and other non specified sickness, lost limbs, were wounded by gun fire and shell fragments, sometimes more than once and were gassed with effects which persisted post war. Some like James Budsworth, wounded and suffering trench fever, were sent home early with medical discharge. Five lost their lives on the Western Front : Roderick Hamilton Budsworth, William Allan Irwin, John Talbott, Joseph William Hamilton, who enlisted as Joseph William Buddsworth and Walter James Stafford.

Roderick Budsworth  [alias Rodger Budsworth]   State Records of NSW Series NRS2327 Item 3/597

walter james stafford inscrription letter

Letter to Edward Stafford about his suggested inscription for his brother Walter Stafford’s headstone. Unfortunately it exceeded the permitted word count. The letter is  annotated  ‘No reply to hand. Form A despatched to London as non inscription.’               NAA: B2455 WALTER JAMES STAFFORD

quirindi mission harry allan letter re william irwin crop

Extract from a letter from the Manager, Quirindi Aboriginal Station in connection with the distribution of William Irwin’s possessions.   NAA: B2455, WILLIAM ALLAN IRWIN

 William Allan Irwin DCM: the framed photograph kept by his family. Note the lower half of the image appears to have been added to the torso  Courtesy great nephew Peter Milliken

William Allan , who enlisted as William Allan Irwin was the only member of the extended family to be decorated. He posthumously received the Distinguished Conduct Medal, one of only four known Aboriginal men to receive this award.

Most of the group belonged to infantry battalions, serving predominantly in France and Belgium but some men were members of artillery units and light horse regiments. The focus of the latter was the Middle East. Two of Alf’s brothers Charles Fitzroy Stafford and Clyde Gilford Stafford served at Gallipoli and Charles Stafford was a member of 12th Light Horse, which took part in the cavalry charge at Beersheba on 17 October 1917.

Charlie Fitzroy Stafford

Charles Fitzroy Stafford  (brother of Alf) Courtesy Michelle Flynn, Stafford Collection, AIATSIS

Charles Stafford, Middle East back row right. This snap is from a Stafford family album The reverse reads ‘Myself on the right & the happy family We have been together ever since I joined To Mother from Charles’  Courtesy Diana Griffiths

James Budsworth at 41 was one of the older volunteers. He served with the Light Horse remounts which attracted older men with horse handling experience. The records show that the 29 volunteers ranged in age from the 44 to 18 years but in fact Wilfred Budsworth gave false information and was actually 16 when he volunteered. Of those underage there is evidence of only one instance of the permission of parents being given for the enlistment of their 19 year old son, Ernest John Blackman. Enlistment under other names and spellings – eg Joseph William Buddsworth (Hamilton), Joseph Smith (George Stafford) were possible devices to avoid the attention of parents or close relatives.

        Ernest Blackman who enlisted age 19 with his mother in later life    Courtesy  Michelle Flynn

Some like John Harold Stafford and William Wallace Chatfield tried to enlist more than once before they were successful. Of those who were rejected only two were refused explicitly because of their race – (William) Thomas Talbott and William Wallace Chatfield. Chatfield’s successful attempt after initial rejection as ‘unsuitable physique (colour)’ is yet another example of the fact that while it is clear recruiters ignored the Aboriginality of others (something which in some cases is obvious from secondary sources) they were not consistent in their enforcement of the provisions of the Defence Act, which precluded Aboriginal enlistment. This is also clear in the cases of Herbert Hamilton whose service record noted his father was white and mother half caste’ but who still achieved entry into the AIF. It is worth noting this was before a May 1917 military order which allowed the enlistment of men with one white parent.


thomas talbott edit2


william wallace chatfield awm

William Wallace Chatfield   Australian War Memorial: AWM2016.641.1

Information given on enlistment locates the extended family predominantly in northern and central western New South Wales and shows that the volunteers came from places like Maitland, Gunnedah, Binnaway, Coonabarabran and Narrabri with others from Inverell and additional New England locations. Most were labourers but occupations included drover, brickmaker, coachmaker, blacksmith, and farmer. The records show the enlistment of brothers – something common to many families and that family members volunteered from early 1915 to late 1918. In two instances, Herbert Hamilton and Ernest Blackman  both embarking late 1918,  returned to Australia  before reaching England, when their troop ship was recalled  because of the cessation of hostilities.

Perhaps the most touching object in Alf’s cricket case is the medallion which depicts his three soldier brothers and would have been worn as a brooch by their mother, who with all AIF mothers shared that combination of pride and fear which characterised the feelings of  close relatives. Complementing this is a photo of Alf, aged eight which shows him dressed in AIF uniform, indicative of his family’s support for the war.


Alf Stafford aged eight in Light Horse uniform    Courtesy Michelle Flynn, Stafford Collection, AIATSIS

Medallion brooch showing the three soldier brothers of Alf Stafford   Courtesy Michelle Flynn, now held in the Stafford Collection, AIATSIS

Alf’s careful guardianship of his family history shows his pride in his family and bears witness to his own considerable achievements – as well as opening a window into his Aboriginality. This is augmented by the ability to use the information he saved, combined with external sources, to identify the records of war service of his brothers and extended family – something Alf would have been unlikely to have anticipated. These records, because of the detailed information they contain, deepen the knowledge of his family and form an invaluable source of information about each individual service man, his family connections, where he was born and lived and so much more.

The service details of the family network discovered by Michelle  represent a microcosm of the AIF experience. They show that Aboriginal people who served in the AIF had the same range of experiences as the AIF as a whole but that some also encountered the racism implicit in the Defence Act – the rejection of two men on race grounds. It is hard to know to what degree this racism permeated the AIF following enlistment or whether it affected any of the men listed here but examples relating to other men demonstrate that it was not unknown (see Philippa Scarlett in Aboriginal History: Volume 39 2015). What is clear is that the records of these men demonstrate the willingness of an extended Aboriginal family group to serve their country despite the existence in it of racism and the discrimination and disadvantage it engendered.

On 9th March 2019, close to the anniversary of the death in battle of Walter James Stafford, some of the members of the extended family gathered at the Australian War Memorial to witness the Last Post Ceremony commemorating his death – brought together by their family connections and the efforts of Alf Stafford’s granddaughter Michelle and her realisation of the important legacy he had entrusted to her.


Some of the extended family who gathered at the Australian War Memorial on 9 March 2019 to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Walter James Stafford (Killed in action 6 May 1916). Courtesy Michelle Flynn

Michelle Flynn and Philippa Scarlett

15 June 2019

The authors examine the Stafford Collection, AIATSIS


Note This is not an exhaustive List. The men have been identified by Michelle with help from family members including Jo Rose, Peter Milliken, Aunty Madge Nixon and Bill Reid. Information about the Stafford brothers is featured in AIATSIS online Exhibition The Stafford Brothers.


BAKER Walter James Depot Coonabarabran NSW

BLACKMAN Ernest John  67827  Gulgong NSW

BUDSWORTH James 2465 Narrabri NSW

BUDDSWORTH Joseph William 3971A (also known as Joseph William Hamilton) Inverell NSW

BUDSWORTH Joseph 1381 Sydney NSW

BUDSWORTH Robert (known and enlisted as Walter Coleman 388)

BUDSWORTH Roderick Hamilton 18 Coonamble NSW

BUDSWORTH Wilfred Ernest N91395 (Depot) Tamworth NSW

CAIN George William N94566 (Depot 94566) Coonabarabran NSW

CAIN James Edward 3146 Coonabarabran NSW

CHATFIELD Alfred William N/A (Depot) Coonabarabran NSW

CHATFIELD William Wallace 57312 Coonabarabran NSW

COLEMAN Walter John 388 Newcastle NSW

GALVIN William John  1132 Inverell NSW

HAMILTON Joseph. Served as Joseph William Buddsworth 3971A

HAMILTON Henry Claude 3162A Inverell NSW

HAMILTON Herbert 3742 Yugilbar (Copmanhurst) NSW

IRWIN William Allan 792. Alias of William Allan. Coonabarabran NSW

SMITH Joseph 2474.  Alias of Henry George Stafford] Gunnedah NSW

STAFFORD Charles Fitzroy 190 Mudgee NSW

STAFFORD Clyde Gilford Ortley 3107 3157 Coonabarabran NSW

STAFFORD George Montgomery 14729 Angledool NSW (Angleedool

STAFFORD John Harold 64759 Binnaway NSW

STAFFORD Walter James 1310 Gunnedah NSW

STAFFORD William Henry 1909 Coonbarabran (Coonabaran) NSW

TALBOTT John 5220 Pilliga NSW

TALBOTT William Thomas N51830 Colly Blue Curlewis NSW

TIGHE Patrick 3313 Mudgee NSW

TIGHE William James 57648 Narrabri NSW

Michelle would like to thank the following people who have helped her find out more about her extended family’s service in the First World War.

Michael Bell

Paddy Chatfield

Christine Cramer

Rosemary Norman Hill

Rita Metzenrath

Peter Milliken

Mark Muliet

Madge Nixon

Joy Pickette

Philippa Scarlett

Jo Rose

Bill Reid

Dolly Talbot



Indigenous Histories, ;

Marg Powell, Des Crump, State Library of Queensland

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales. New South Wales officers and men of the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) and the Australian Naval Forces: portrait collection, 1919. Crown Studios. P1/ Servicemen (BM). (portrait of John Stafford)

National Archives of Australia. Australian Imperial Force, Base Records, B2455 Personnel dossiers for first Imperial Forces ex-service members, lexicographical series.1 Jan1914 – 31 Dec 1920.

National Archives of Australia. Australian Imperial Force, Base Records, MT 1486/1, Applications to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force.

National Archives of Australia. Australian Imperial Force, Base Records, B2455 Personnel dossiers for first Imperial Forces ex-service members, lexicographical series.1 Jan1914 – 31 Dec 1920.

National Archives of Australia. Australian Imperial Force, Base Records, MT1486/1, Applications to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force.

Joy Pickette Footprints in the Sand. Stories of Aboriginal soldiers in the First World War who had a connection to Coonbarabran, Coonabarabran DPS Local & Family History Group Inc. 2017.

Philippa Scarlett Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers for the AIf: the Indigenous response to World War One, fourth edition, 2018.

Posted in WW1 | 1 Comment


The identification of Aboriginal men who are known to have served on Gallipoli has continued to grow from the 56 soldiers acknowledged in 2015. In 2018 the names of those who took part in the landing or arrived in the following months has surged to over 70.

This is in line with the increase in total numbers of known Aboriginal volunteers: the latest edition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF: The Indigenous Response to World War One (published 2018), contains in addition to commentary and context, the names of 189 volunteers not represented in the 2015 edition. This and the fact that since publication the names or eight more men have been uncovered shows that the process of uncovering these men is still an ongoing one.

While acknowledging the service of all Aboriginal men is important, it is their presence on Gallipoli which symbolically places them and their comrades within the Anzac story central to Australia’s war remembrance. The Gallipoli service of these men shows not only this but that Aboriginal men volunteered from the outbreak of war in 1914. By examining their service records, photographs and other documentary sources it is readily apparent that the Aboriginal heritage of almost all of these men would have been evident to the recruiters. This makes it clear that from the first, at least some recruiters and medical officers were prepared to ignore the provision of the Defence Act 1901 (amended 1909) which prohibited the enlistment of men not substantially of European origin – and that their actions were not simply linked to low recruiting levels.

Aboriginal men went on to volunteer throughout the course of the war and to serve elsewhere in the Middle East, France and Belgium. The Australian War Memorial estimates that approximately 160 Aboriginal men  were killed or died of wounds during this conflict – and included amongst these are some of the 34 Aboriginal men known to date to have been decorated for bravery. Australians have repeated Lest We Forget over the one hundred years which have elapsed since the end of the First World War. However it is an inescapable fact despite this that we did forget the service of Aboriginal men – and later women. As the centenary draws to a close the situation has begun to change, accelerating in recent years, so that now on Anzac Day 2018 it can be truly said that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who served  Australia have at last received the public recognition and remembrance by their nation that they  have always deserved.

Philippa Scarlett

25 April 2018


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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 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.


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



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)


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 *


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


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)


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)



WILLIAMS Arthur Edward Depot

WILLIE Sandye Q23125 Depot (Depot)

YEO William Henry 3516





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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.


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.

Posted in Aborigines sport, WW1 | 3 Comments



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, Camp of Mercy and an index to Aboriginal people mentioned in surviving Protection and Welfare Board minutes . 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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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 Benghasi in January in the first Libyan campaign before being sent to Greece in March of that year to support the Greeks against the Germans invading from Yugoslavia,  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 seven 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’ (quoted by Paul Rea in 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.

steilberg hi res best resize 2

Walter Steilberg 1939 , NAA B2458: 262002

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 in 1982  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 , 2013 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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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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