Engraved cigarette case : Sergeant R W Saunders 2/7 Battalion AIF


Cigarette case with matt gold coloured interior. The exterior surface of the case is stamped with a decorative waffle pattern. A small piece in the top left corner of the exterior does not have this pattern and within this is faintly punched 'RWS'. Scratched into the interior surface are the locations 'JERUSALEM / JERICO TEL AVIV / BEITJERJA/ALEXADRIA [sic]/ Merssa Matruh / Tobruk Bardia / Derna Bengazi / Mersa Brega / Amria -sizeways R- Athens / Larissa Larmia / Daffnie Corinth / Suda Galatos Kenya / Retimo Heracklion [sic] / Spakia Colombo'. The first few locations are in all upper case with the rest in lower case. Stamped in small text into the surface of the interior below this is 'MADE IN ENGLAND / CHROMIUM PLATE'. Scratched into the other interior surface is 'VX12843 / SAUNDERS.R.W. / 2/7th Btn. / 6th.Div. / A.I.F.'. Hand written in lead pencil below this is 'Reginald Saunders/Lake Condah Post Office/VICTORIA AUSTRALIA'.

History / Summary

Cigarette case carried by Sergeant Reg Saunders during his service in the Middle East and Mediterranean. The interior of the case is scratched with details of his military service, including areas where he served. Reginald Walter Saunders was born in 1920, in Purnim, Victoria, near the Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve. He came from a long line of soldiers with his community in Western Victoria being known as the 'fighting Gunditjmara' for their extensive and proud contributions to the defence of Australia over several generations.

Both his father and his uncle served in the First World War. His uncle, Reg Rawlings, for whom he was named, received a Military Medal for action at Morlancourt Ridge, France. Rawlings was killed in action at Vauvillers, in 1918. In the Second World War, Reg Saunders and his brother Harry both served in the Army. Harry was killed in action in New Guinea near Buna and is buried at Bomana Cemetery in Port Moresby. Reg saw action in North Africa at Benghazi, in Greece, and spent 12 months behind German lines on occupied Crete. After being rescued with other Allied servicemen by a British submarine he eventually returned to Australia. He saw service on the Kokoda Trail was shot in the knee but returned to the 2/7th Infantry Battalion after his recovery.

He was the first recognized Indigenous Australian to be commissioned as an Officer into the Australian Army, in 1944 with the rank of Lieutenant. By the end of the war he had been promoted to Captain. The Korean War provided further opportunity for soldiering. In Korea, he served as Officer Commanding, C Company, 3 Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, leading his company through fierce fighting, including the battle at Kapyong in April 1951 for which the battalion was awarded a US Presidential Unit Citation. After having fought the battle for Hill 317, Reg left Korea in October 1952, and resigned from the regular army in 1954.

After leaving the army his life became unsettled, and he had difficulty re-establishing himself as a civilian. Tough years followed, but he overcame them. Meanwhile he found he was increasingly expected to be a spokesperson for Indigenous Australians. In 1969 Reg Saunders was selected to be among the first Aboriginal Liaison Officers for the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, which became the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Devoted to those he had served with, he was a man of dignity and good humour who remained committed to the advancement of his people. His biographer and friend, Harry Gordon, an Australian journalist in Korea, wrote of him: 'He was accepted unreservedly by the men who served with him because false values do not flourish among front-line soldiers.' Saunders was awarded a MBE in 1971 and appointed to the Council of the Australian War Memorial in July 1985. He died on 2 March 1990.