Private William Reginald Rawlings

Service number 3603
Birth Date 1890
Birth Place Australia: Victoria, Purnim
Death Date 1918-08-09
Death Place France: Picardie, Somme, Vauvillers
Final Rank Private
Service Australian Imperial Force
Unit 29th Australian Infantry Battalion
Conflict/Operation First World War, 1914-1918
Gazettes Published in London Gazette in 1918-12-11
Published in Commonwealth Gazette in 1919-03-14

William Reginald Rawlings, known as Bill, was born in Purnim, Victoria, the only son of William Rawlings and his wife, Elizabeth . At the outbreak of the First World War he was a horse-breaker in and around the Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve in western Victoria. Although Aboriginal men were officially prohibited from enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force, Bill Rawlings was one of the many indigenous Australians who applied anyway. He enlisted in March 1916. In August he left Australia for France with the 8th reinforcements to the 29th Battalion.

Bill's health suffered in his first year in France. He had serious problems with trench foot and was eventually evacuated to England to recover. In late 1917 he rejoined his unit and went on to serve with distinction. In July 1918 the 29th Battalion took part in the advance along Morlancourt Ridge. The bombing team of which Bill was part attacked a communication trench and successfully forced out the enemy. Bill was commended for setting "a wonderful example to the remainder of [his] team" with his "irresistible dash and courage", and was awarded the Military Medal.

On 9 August the 29th Battalion was involved in the capture of Vauvillers in France. Bill left the trench with his battalion and started out on the advance, but about 200 metres from his starting point he was hit by a shell and was killed immediately. He was 27. Bill was buried in the Heath Cemetery in France, alongside his friend and fellow Indigenous soldier, Corporal Harry Thorpe, another Military Medal recipient who was killed on the same day.

While some Indigenous Australian soldiers of lighter skin colour may have tried to hide their ancestry, Bill had much darker skin, but appeared to be accepted without prejudice within his battalion. In their reports about his death in Bill's Red Cross Wounded and Missing file, Bill's mates make no further comment on his Aboriginality beyond describing him as such for identification purposes. A veteran soldier later recalled, "The AIF judged a man not by his colour, but by his worth." Bill Rawlings set a fine example of leadership and courage in the field, and was sadly missed after his death.



Date of birth 1890
Date of enlistment 30 March 1916
Date of embarkation 01 August 1916
Date of recommendation honour or award 30 July 1918
Date of recommendation honour or award 02 August 1918
Date of death 09 August 1918