Captain Reg Saunders

Accession Number ART28159
Collection type Art
Measurement Overall: 76.4 x 61.6 cm
Object type Painting
Physical description oil on canvas
Maker Thalben-Ball, Pamela
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Australia: New South Wales, Sydney
Date made 1978
Conflict Period 1970-1979
Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC

Reginald Walter Saunders was born in 1920, in Purnim, Victoria, near the Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve. He came from a long line of soldiers. 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. Reg saw action in North Africa at Benghazi, in Greece, and 12 months behind the lines on Crete. After returning to Australia, he saw service on the Kokoda Track was shot in the knee but returned to the 2/7th Infantry Battalion after his recovery. He was the first indigenous Australian to be commissioned as an officer into the Australian Army, in 1945. In Korea, he served as Officer Commanding, C Company, 3 RAR, 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 finally left Korea in October 1952, and resigned from the regular army in 1954. He was the first Aboriginal serviceman to command a rifle company, and was respected and popular with his men. 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 he died in 1990.