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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
13 November 2020