During the course of WW1 and immediately after, an unknown number of members of the AIF who were stationed in England, on leave or convalescing, met and married English women. In most instances details of the marriage are contained in a serviceman’s record – in AIF form 517. In some cases marriages were recorded in studio portraits like that of Gordon Naley, following his return from POW camp in Germany. After the war ended these war brides and sometimes fiancées travelled to Australia on His Majesty’s Transports, usually with their husbands and often accompanied by children. The arrival of one such ship was reported in the West Australian on 3 November 1919:
Monday 3 November 1919. HMAT Mahana arrived at Fremantle late yesterday afternoon, She had on board 1,151 passengers of whom 46 were civilians, 124 soldiers, 431 female dependants of soldiers and 110 children … Three infants died on the voyage out and two were born. Otherwise, the voyage was uneventful. The ship is stated to have been a very happy one. It is expected that the Mahana will continue her voyage to the Eastern States this morning.
A Miss Campbell, known affectionately to the soldiers as ‘the girl with the flags’, gained fame during the course of the war for the welcome she gave to troop ships passing through Durban, South Africa. She described in verse the arrival in 1920 of the last ship to Australia, the Shropshire. After heralding the ‘Dear Aussie Soldier men and English Brides,’ she went on to write
And now the last one goes a family ship
Fair English faces smile beside
The lean tanned faces of those hero men,
And baby faces peer between the rails,
Or wave a wee hand from their vantage place,
High in their father’s arms the last ship sails
Oh! may those babies never have to cross
The world, in years to come for such a war
What she may not have known was that some of the men returning with their wives were of Aboriginal heritage. Aboriginal men who married overseas so far identified are Arthur Andrews, Ernest Andrews, Walter Coe, Joseph Crowley, Harold Frazer, Charles Miller, George Morley, Gordon Naley, Arthur Ruttley and Alfred White. Miss Campbell’s wish was not granted and the sons and some daughters of veterans of the First World War did ‘cross the world’ to fight in other wars. Amongst these were sons of Indigenous servicemen Walter Coe and Gordon Naley.
Philippa Scarlett 29 March 2013