Indigenous military service recognised

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The Australian War Memorial has published a new study by military historian Chris Clark which provides a brief history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service in Australia’s defence forces.  

The study, Indigenous service in Australia’s armed forces in peace and war: an overview, demonstrates the breadth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s service in every conflict and commitment involving Australia since Federation, including both world wars.

The completed research can be found on the Memorial’s website at:

The Australian War Memorial is committed to commemorating the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As part of this commitment the Memorial is  compiling a database of Indigenous personnel who served in the First World War and their stories.

The Memorial has also recently appointed a new Indigenous Liaison Officer, Michael Bell, whose involvement with several Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations includes the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Aged Care Reference Group, the Australian Bureau of Statistics Indigenous roundtable group, and the Native Title service provider for New South Wales and the ACT, NTSCORP.

Mr Bell’s key role is to encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to come forward with their stories relating to Australia’s military history and to build effective relationships between Indigenous communities and the Australian War Memorial.

The Memorial has a number of such projects planned throughout the centenary period, and the stories of Indigenous soldiers from 1914–18 feature prominently in the redeveloped First World War Galleries.

For example, the headstone of Corporal Harry Thorpe MM, an Aboriginal soldier of the 7th Battalion, AIF, is displayed in the Memorial’s Reflections Gallery. Thorpe was decorated for bravery during the war, and died of wounds he sustained in action in August 1918. Today his remains lie in France’s Heath Cemetery.

The Memorial’s Semakh diorama tells the story of an enemy engagement by members of the 11th Light Horse Regiment, a unit which contained a high proportion of Indigenous Australians.

Meanwhile, on Remembrance Day this year the Memorial honoured the service of Captain Reg Saunders MBE – perhaps Australia’s best-known Aboriginal soldier – at a special ceremony renaming the Western Courtyard and Gallery the “Captain Reg Saunders Courtyard and Gallery”.

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