Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF

Book Review: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF: The Indigenous Response to World War One (Second Edition)  2012 Philippa Scarlett 

I first came across Philippa Scarlett’s name as part of my research into World War One Australian Aboriginal soldier Douglas Grant. Philippa was a guest on an ABC Radio program with two other researchers, Garth O’Connell and David Huggonson. Garth and David had led the way some years earlier by documenting the neglected area of Australia’s Indigenous war service record.

The radio program had the well known portrait of a WWI Aboriginal soldier, standing next to Private Harry Avery and an unknown British soldier, as a prominent image on it’s website for the interview. This photo, said to be of Aboriginal WWI soldier Douglas Grant, is a key element of my own research – as I do not believe it is Douglas Grant, but another unidentified Indigenous serviceman. About a year later, David Huggonson put me into contact with Philippa, who he said had just completed the most recent published book on the subject, had reviewed many photographs and was applying a solid analytical approach to her research.

After several discussions and emails, Philippa agreed to take a more detailed look at the photo in question and became the first independent researcher in the area to agree with my hypothesis: the Aboriginal soldier standing next to Private Harry Avery in the WWI portrait is not Douglas Grant, 13th Battalion, Atherton Queensland. Unfortunately, this particular tale is yet to be resolved, the Aboriginal companion of Private Avery is still yet to be identified.

While Philippa documents this question about the mis-identification of Douglas Grant (page 50 and page 155), this instance is only one in a multitude of issues, only one face and one name amoung hundreds of WWI Indigenous Diggers who served this nation. The Douglas Grant example is symbolic of the complexities involved in historical research in this area and demonstrates the importance of referenced rolls like that in “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF”.

Just ahead of the Centenary of ANZAC and WWI, Philippa’s work ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers of the AIF’ provides a wonderful resource for future generations of Australians.

Adding newly discovered soliders to the honour roll, and refining the works of earlier historians, the book represents the most current and comprehensive referenced list of over 800 men of Indigenous heritage who volunteered for service in WWI.

The accompanying notes include comments on locating Indigenous men in service records, reasons for volunteering and the growth of interest in Indigenous service since the 1930s. The discussion of Indigenous involvement in World War One uses the words of Aboriginal soldiers and community members, contemporary non-Indigenous commentators and newspaper reports. There are 84 illustrations, 79 of which are individual and group portraits of Indigenous servicemen.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers for the AIF: the Indigenous response to World War One is published by Indigenous Histories, price $30 plus $10 postage.

For more information contact:

Indigenous Histories
PO 686 Jamison Centre Macquarie
ACT Australia 2614

Email: indigenous.histories@netspeed.com.au; Twitter: @WW1Scarlett
National Library of Australia Trove: http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/37036090

Other works by Philippa include How Soon They Forget and The Lock Family in World War One

Andrew McIntosh 7 January 2013

About Andrew McIntosh CPA, Optimize Business

Optimize Business: Drive small business, NGO, NFPs to optimal success through strategy, innovation & best practice. Business Coach. Social Media. Business Blog at www.optimizesbiz.com & tweeting at @optimize_biz
This entry was posted in Andrew McIntosh WW1, WW1. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF

  1. Damien Seden says:

    Here’s a list of known highly decorated Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Servicemen & Women.

    Distinguished Conduct Medal
    Corporal Albert Knight DCM 
    Lance Corporal Richard Norman Kirby DCM 
    Private William A Irwin DCM 

    Belgium Croix de Guerre
    Corporal Ewan Rose 

    Military Medal
    Sergeant Vivian Augustus Andrews MM
    Corporal Augustus P Farmer MM
    Corporal Harry Thorpe MM
    Lance Corporal William A Knight MM 
    Lance Corporal Frederick Prentice MM 
    Lance Corporal Hector Ernest Brooks MM 
    Private William Reginald Rawlings MM
    Private John Pearce MM 
    Private Raymond C Runga MM
    Private Maitland Madge MM 
    Private Frederick J Briggs MM 
    Private Augustus Davies MM 
    Charles Hearps MM 
    Jack Roy Johnson MM 
    John Ferguson MM 

    Mention In Dispatches
    Corporal William J Jonas MID 
    Private Frank Steward MID 
    Private Garnet Eustace Wilson MID

    Distinguished Flying Cross 
    Flight Lieutenant Dave Valentine Paul DFC 

    Military Medal 
    Corporal Timothy Hughes MM 
    Corporal Inky Ferguson MM
    Trooper Clive Upright MM

    Distinguished Service Medal 
    Sister Marion Leanne Smith DSM 

    Military Medal 
    Corporal Charles Mene MM 

    Mention In Dispatches
    Sergeant Cecil Anderson MID 

    US Bronze Star
    Warrant Officer Jim Geedrick
    Warrant Officer Clarence Upton 

    Mention In Dispatches
    Corporal Roy Mundine MID 
    Corporal Norman J Womal MID 

    US Army Commendation Medal 
    Captain Chloe Dray 

    Order of Australia Medal (Military Division)
    Warrant Officer Roy Mundine OAM MID 
    Lieutenant CCommander Bertram Slape OAM
    Matthew Charles Burke OAM

    British Empire Medal (Military Division)
    Flight Sergeant Harold James Allie BEM

    Know doubt there is more waiting to be discovered.

  2. The Aboriginal man standing beside Harry Avery is now recognised by the Australian War Memorial as unidentified – and not Douglas Grant. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P01692.001. However in May 2016 a new website on Indigenous servicemen http://indigenous.ww1anzac.com/a.html erroneously names Harry Avery as an Aboriginal man and as the Aboriginal man in the photograph. There are no contact details or information as to who posted this material on the website but investigation shows it belongs to a Faithe Jones http://www.gravesecrets.net/wwi-pictorial-honour-rolls.html who has diversified from documenting WW1 Australians to the often complex task of specifically singling out Indigenous men. Because there is no contact is not possible to comment directly and correct this and other misinformation about men said to be Aboriginal on the site. Few of the photographs on the site are attributed to their source although this image and some others show their source to be the Australian War Memorial. The Memorial description clearly shows that Avery is the seated white man in the centre of the photograph. Attribution is important not least because it enables those interested to inquire further and possibly to seek permission to reproduce from the actual source not Jones (if contact details which are not on the site can be found) who has copyrighted the whole site – and if necessary to verify identities.

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