Reginald Walter Saunders (Reg) was the first Indigenous Australian soldier to be commissioned as an officer in the Australian Army...
He commanded an infantry company during the Korean War. Reg was a member of the Gunditjmara people and was born in Western Victoria in 1920. He came from a family that had a history of military service, his father and his uncle having served in the First World War. Reg's own service commenced in 1940, when he and his brother enlisted during the Second World War. Reg fought with 2/7th Infantry Battalion in North Africa, Greece and Crete. In 1942, after escaping from Crete where he had been a fugitive from the Germans for almost a year, Reg returned to the 2/7th Battalion as a Sergeant in New Guinea. In 1944 he was nominated to undergo officer training and received his commission as a lieutenant in December of that year. During 1945 Reg commanded a platoon of infantry and saw action during the fighting for Wewak.
At the end of WWII Reg left the Army and took up civilian employment, but when the Korean War began he re-enlisted and was posted as an officer to the newly raised 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. Reg rose to the rank of Captain. He saw action at the Battle of Kapyong where C Company, which he commanded, was deployed on a spur of high ground in support of A and B Companies. C Company was engaged in repelling numerous Chinese assaults on the battalion positions during the battle. In 1951 Reg also participated in the Battle of Maryang San.
Reg's fellow soldiers respected him. Harry Gordon, a journalist and Reg's friend and biographer, said of him that 'He was accepted unreservedly by the men who served with him because false values do not flourish among front-line soldiers.' Following the Korean War Reg served for a time in training commands. He tired of this and left the Army in 1954. He worked in a number of jobs and eventually settled into a career as a liaison and public affairs officer with the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. In 1971 Reg was awarded the MBE. He died in 1990.