Commemorating Indigenous service in the First World War poster

Indigenous service in the First World War poster cover
This commemorative poster focuses on Indigenous service. It shows Private Frederick Prentice of the 12th Australian Infantry Battalion and 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion. Frederick enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in May 1915 and was awarded the Military Medal for his actions on 19 July 1916 at Pozières, France.
Series: Commemorative posters

Wartime snapshot

For much of the past century, Indigenous Australians who enlisted during the First World War have remained in the shadows, their service unrecognised and their stories largely unknown.

Yet Indigenous soldiers, perhaps as many as a thousand individuals, served in almost every branch of the Australian Imperial Force, many of them in the forward areas and front line. They were among the wounded, among those who earned bravery awards and among the many who returned home during or after the war. And they were among the tens of thousands who lost their lives and lie buried in graves from the Middle East to Western Europe.

Whatever their motivation for enlisting – the pay, the desire to serve alongside mates, the quest for adventure, belief in the cause for which Britain and Australia were fighting, or the hope of a better life after the war – in the ranks of the Australian Imperial Force, Indigenous men found equality, maybe for their first time in their lives.

At least 100 Indigenous Australians served in the Light Horse. Many more served on the Western Front. On 9 August 1918, 3 Indigenous servicemen – Reg Rawlings MM, Henry Thorpe MM and John Firebrace – were killed in action in France. John Firebrace’s brother Arthur was the only survivor of 4 men from the Firebrace family who served in the Australian Imperial Force.

He and hundreds of others returned to Australia, often to find that their war service meant little in a country that still did not count Indigenous peoples as full British subjects. Today, these men and the generations of Indigenous service personnel who have followed them are increasingly receiving the recognition that has long been their due.


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