Skip to main content
state library of queensland
John Oxley Library

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF

By JOL Admin | 9 April 2014

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF: The Indigenous response to World War One (940.40994 SCA) is a compilation by Philippa Scarlett that identifies 815 Indigenous men who enlisted or attempted to enlist in the first World War.

The alphabetical listing draws upon a range of source materials, including the National Archives and Australian War Memorial records. Reveille, the journal of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia (RSSAILA) was another rich source of information as several issues during 1931-32 identified Aboriginals who served in WW1. Reveille also encouraged readers to provide details of Aboriginal soldiers who fought alongside them; the Aboriginal Protectors from Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria also provided names of men who enlisted from the respective Government missions.

Part One of the publication provides a context to these men volunteering for service and how despite a policy of White Australia and Protection Acts, Indigenous people volunteered from the onset of World War One. Initially many of these volunteers were rejected on the basis of their Aboriginality. Scarlett uncovers examples where reasons such as 'unsuitable physique - Aboriginal' or 'very strongly Aboriginal in type' written on medical examination forms - the following image is an extract from such a form that has 'Very dark, Aboriginal blood' in the distinctive marks column.

However as the war took its' toll on the battlefields of France, the restrictions were relaxed, so by May 1917 a military order allowed for the enlistment of 'Indigenous men provided they had one white parent'; this later became 'one white grandparent'. Willie Cummings' (Service No. 63989) Attestation reads as follows:

"I Willie Cummings do solemnly and sincerely declare I am anxious to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. My age is 19 years. My father was a White man born in Queensland and my mother was a half-caste born in Queensland. Both my parents are deceased. I have lived all my life with white people. I am not of German, Austrian, Turkish or Bulgarian descent."

Attestation of Willie Cummings.

This reference book is an excellent starting point for identifying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soldiers, whether it be for family history or adding to the local history of a town or community.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers for the AIF: the Indigenous response to World War One is published by Indigenous Histories, price $30 plus $10 postage.

For more information contact Philippa via email or post:

Indigenous Histories

PO 686 Jamison Centre Macquarie

ACT Australia 2614


References/Further Reading:

National Archives of Australia Record Search B2455, CUMMINGS W - Attestation of Willie Cummings (Service No. 63989).

Pratt, R. (1993) Biographical register of Queensland Aborigines who served in the Great War, 1914-1918. P 940.403 pra

Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's League of Australia Reveille. 30 November 1931.

Scarlett, P. (2011)  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF: The Indigenous response to World War One 940.40994 SCA

Des Crump - Indigenous Languages Researcher, State Library of Queensland



Your email address will not be published.

We welcome relevant, respectful comments.

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.
We also welcome direct feedback via Contact Us.
You may also want to ask our librarians.