In 1933 a former private in the 15th Battalion drew attention to the service of Aboriginal men at Gallipoli when he said ‘I have stood shoulder to shoulder with half castes in Hell’s pit [Hell’s Spit], on Quinn’s Post, and seen them die like the grandest of white men.’ In subsequent years the existence of Aboriginal soldiers at Gallipoli and in World War One as a whole, was largely erased from Australian history. During the last decades of the 20th century this situation slowly began to change. Yet, as recently as 2001, Les Carlyon, in his book Gallipoli (described as a ‘definitive history’) denied Aboriginal men a place in what many Australians regard as the most significant campaign in their history.

That there were Aboriginal men at Gallipoli we do know – the question is how many. Recent estimates of the number of Aboriginal men killed or surviving the Gallipoli campaign have varied from the mid thirties to a conservative seventeen.

Lists compiled in the past of Aboriginal men who served in World War One, including Gallipoli, have included individuals who were not Aboriginal or whose Aboriginality needs clarification. The James Lucas, 953, born Mudgee NSW, who enlisted in Queensland and died at Gallipoli is one of a number of problematic servicemen. There is an Indigenous James Lucas from Queensland who is documented in 1897 (1) but he is unlikely to be the James Lucas from Mudgee. I would welcome any information confirming Aboriginal heritage for a serviceman of this name. AIF records available for view on the National Archives of Australia website (in series B2455) show that eleven men named James Lucas volunteered for World War One.

The issue of identification raised here emphasises the importance of accessible referencing when talking about Indigenous service in general and Gallipoli in particular. The compiler of one list of Indigenous World War One servicemen has observed that it is in the nature of history to be self correcting. This is sometimes true but unfortunately not always. It is now close to April 2013. The 2015 centenary of Gallipoli is fast approaching and time for history to assist is running out. This makes it all the more important to place the identification of the Indigenous men of this campaign on a firm basis.

(1) Regina Ganter and Ros Kidd ‘The powers of protectors: Conflicts surrounding Queensland’s 1897 aboriginal legislation’. Australian Historical Studies, Vol 25, 101, 1993 pp. 536-554

Philippa Scarlett 24 February 2013

About Indigenous Histories

Author & Publisher of Australian history, art and culture.
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  1. Tony says:

    Hi Philippa,
    A sapper by the name of Punton (and others) surveyed Galipoli after the battle. He was a descendant of Yarramundi

  2. Jason says:

    Hi Philippa, I am researching my sister-in-law’s family tree, her Great-Grandfather was of aboriginal descent. His name was Alick Wright. I found a newspaper article about his death in 1936 that stated he served with the 10th Battalion and was at the Galipoli landing. I read his service record and that has his enlistment date as 1915. I would like to find out more about Alick but have hit a bit of a brick wall, have you got any hints?

  3. John Richards says:

    I am wondering if George Kennedy, 1025, 6th Australian Light Horse served on Gallipoli. His service records seem incomplete. There is no mention of a disembarkation date in Egypt. Perhaps the 6th Light horse left their farriers behind in Egypt with the horses, when they went to Gallipoli.
    Enlistment date 4 February 1915
    Unit embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, on board HMAT A65 Clan Mcewen on 28 June 1915

    The 2nd Light Horse Brigade landed in late May 1915 and was attached to the 1st Australian Division. The 6th Light Horse became responsible for a sector on the far right of the ANZAC line, and played a defensive role until it left the peninsula on 20 December 1915. from https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U51040/


    My interest in George is that he is the only recorded Indigenous serviceman to have received a Soldier Settler Grant in NSW after the war.

    • Perhaps the unit diary could help here also the service records of other men in his unit – There may also be a unit history which could clarify matters.

      George Kennedy was not the only Aboriginal man in NSW to receive a soldier settlement block. Archie Murphy is also recorded as receiving one. In other states there is Percy Pepper Vic and William Ahang SA plus a few more.

  4. Cheryl Peate says:

    Is there any suggestion that some Aboriginal servicemen were left behind in Europe?

    • I have not heard of any – when you say left behind do you mean that they went AWOL and did not actually make it back to Australia. Perhaps some did stay on. There are suggestions that Aboriginal men were left in South Africa after the Boer war but there has been no proof that I have heard of – would be keen to learn of any instances from this conflict or WW1. The rumoured Boer war situation has been portrayed as an immigration issue.

  5. Lily Reynolds says:

    Hello, this site is amazing.
    I was wondering if there was anymore background on the Indigenous anzacs, and about their service, as well as how they died.

    Thanks 🙂

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