At the outbreak of the First World War the laws of the day prevented Indigenous men from enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force. However, it is believed that by the end of the war approximately 1,000 Aboriginal men had enlisted and served their country, including the Dickerson brothers from Western Australia.

The eldest brother was James Dickerson, born at Gin Gin in 1883. A horse breaker and labourer, James joined the AIF in October 1914, describing his complexion as "black" on his enlistment papers. James's horsemanship skills enabled him to join Western Australia's 10th Light Horse Regiment, a unit which was destined to distinguish itself at Gallipoli.

In the lead-up to the Gallipoli campaign, the Australians were encamped in Egypt. James's record shows that his training did not run as smoothly as he may have hoped. In early April 1915 he was arrested and charged with assault and drunkenness, an offence for which he served 28 days detention. A few days after his release, James joined his unit as they embarked for Gallipoli, arriving in early May. There the 10th Light Horse suffered terrible casualties in the disastrous charge against Turkish defences at the Nek. Trooper Dickerson survived but a few weeks later his unit was involved in the assault on Hill 60 and he received serious shell wounds to the buttock and leg. He was removed to the hospital ship Devanha, where he died the following day on 30 August 1915. Trooper James Dickerson was buried at sea.

James is commemorated on the Lone Pine Memorial on the Gallipoli peninsula and on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial.

Born in 1894 in York, Western Australia, Harry Dickerson was 11 years younger than his brother, and listed his occupation as a woodcutter when he joined the AIF on 7 September 1915. He enlisted in the 12th reinforcements to the 10th Light Horse and arrived in Egypt in February 1916, only a couple of months after the Australian forces were evacuated from Gallipoli. Serving with a depot squadron throughout most of 1916, Harry became ill in November and was hospitalised, then placed in an isolation camp at Moascar until February the following year. Soon afterwards he was sent on the Hotchkiss machine-gun course, passed as a first class machine-gunner, and was assigned to the 3rd Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron. He served with his unit throughout the Palestine campaign.

As the war drew towards its end in late 1918 Harry was detached from his unit to work in the provision of supplies at Damascus. He suffered some brief periods of illness, requiring hospital treatment, and eventually returned to Australia where he was discharged from the AIF in September 1919.

A member of the 10th Light Horse at the Regiment's camp, Egypt.

Lone Pine Memorial, Gallipoli.

3rd Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron in action.

Classroom activities

Think, discuss, write...

  1. Trooper James Dickerson died as a result of the wounds he received in the battle for Hill 60 at Gallipoli. This was the last offensive action of the Gallipoli campaign and, although the hill was successfully taken, heavy losses were sustained. Soon afterwards, the following recruitment poster was distributed in Australia:

    Harry J. Weston, We took the hill, come and help us keep it, 1915.

    After months of setbacks and stalemate at Gallipoli, the successful attack on Hill 60 was the first "success story" from the campaign in some time.

    1. Why were recruitment posters used back home in Australia?

    2. In what ways would this poster encourage men at home to enlist?

    3. As the First World War dragged on, fewer men enlisted in Australia. Why?

    4. What did the Australian government do to try to increase enlistment numbers?

    5. Were Aboriginal Australians more likely to be accepted for enlistment as the war continued? Why or why not?

  2. During the battle for Hill 60, a member of the 10th Light Horse, Lieutenant Hugo Throssell, performed acts of great bravery for which he was later awarded the Victoria Cross. His was the first Victoria Cross awarded to a Western Australian in the war and the only one awarded to an Australian light horseman.

    Lieutenant Throssell (right) in hospital recovering from the wounds he received on Gallipoli, October 1915.

    Find out what Lieutenant Throssell did at the battle for Hill 60 in order to be awarded the Victoria Cross. A useful statement about the incident is the official citation for the award.