3603 Private William Reginald Rawlings, 29th Battalion
KIA 9 August 1918
Story delivered 27 May 2013
Today we remember and pay tribute to Private William Reginald Rawlings of the 29th Battalion. In honour of the great tradition of Indigenous military service to Australia, we tell his story.
Bill Rawlings was born in Purnim, Victoria, the only son of William Rawlings and his wife, Elizabeth. On 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 applied and was accepted into the AIF in March 1916. In August he left Australia for France with the 8th Training Battalion. In December 1916 he was transferred to the 29th Battalion.
Rawlings health suffered in his first year in France. He had such serious problems with trench foot that he was eventually evacuated to England to recover. In late 1917 he rejoined his unit and went on to serve with distinction. In August 1918 the 29th Battalion was involved in the successful advance along Morlancourt Ridge. Here Rawlings was part of a bombing team which attacked a communication trench, ejecting the enemy and successfully defending the new post. He was cited for setting a wonderful example to the remainder of [his] team with his irresistible dash and courage , and was awarded the Military Medal.
The following month, the 29th Battalion was involved in the capture of Vauvillers in France. Rawlings left the trench with his battalion and started out on the advance, but about 200 metres from the starting point he was hit by a shell and was killed immediately. He was 27.
It is often assumed that Indigenous Australian soldiers had to hide their identity for their entire service because they were not allowed to enlist. Although he probably did try to hide it, Bill s mates doubtless knew that he was Indigenous. The men who made reports about his death certainly all knew it, but they made no further comment on this beyond describing him as such for identification purposes. An old soldier later recalled that the AIF judged a man not by his colour, but by his worth . Bill Rawlings was clearly worthy of such respect a man who set a fine example of leadership and courage in the field, and who was sadly missed after his death.
His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on your left, along with over 60,000 others from the First World War, and his photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.
This is one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private William Reginald Rawlings, and all of those Australians who have given their lives in service of our nation.