Recognising 100 years of Indigenous ANZACs BY Colin Margaritis
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this article contains images and names of people who have since passed.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC. In the subsequent years to Gallipoli the existence of Aboriginal soldiers, as a whole, was largely erased from Australian history. That there were Aboriginal men at Gallipoli we do know; the question is how many? A list of 32 indigenous Australian soldiers that served solely at Gallipoli exists online (information from indigenoushistories.com).
Reginald Walter Saunders M.B.E was the first Aborigine to command a rifle unit and the first to be commissioned as an officer in the Australian Army.
He began at camp Puckapunyal on 3rd November, 1939 in preparation for active duty in World War II. Completing basic training in April, he departed from Melbourne for active combat duties in the Middle East. He joined the advance against the Italians in Eastern Libya for 9 months after which he moved with his division to Crete to resist the German invasion. Experiencing heavy fighting, including a wild bayonet charge at Chania, Crete, his division was rebuilt in Palestine and deployed to Ceylon to defend Sri Lanka from the Japanese forces.
In 1942 he was sent to Wau in New Guinea to again fight the Japanese. Reginald got back to Australia in October, 1944 with the rank of a Platoon Commander.
Returning to civilian life proved a difficult transition. When he returned to Australian society he faced discrimination and his qualities as a leader went unappreciated.
When the Korean war started in 1950 he returned to the Army as a Captain in the 3rd Batallion Royal Australian Regiment and fought at the battle for Kapyong.
In 1967 he joined the office of Aboriginal Affairs and in 1971 was awarded the distinction of the royal order of M.B.E. During his career as a soldier, he was awarded over 100 decorations, including two M.B.E’s.
A well respected officer and a leader amongst his peers, Saunders died on March 2nd, 1990.
Lest we forget.