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WW1 Indigenous Roll of Honour

By JOL Admin | 5 September 2014

There have been several blog posts relating to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander soldiers who were killed in action on the WW1 battlefields. This post attempts to list the known Indigenous soldiers who are listed on various Rolls of Honour, including AIATSIS' Indigenous Australians at War website. Others may also appear on War Memorials in their local towns or communities; for example the above image of the Herberton War Memorial clearly identifies Pte W Perrott (Service No. 3704).

The Defence Act of 1909 specifically excluded enlistments from 'those who are not substantially of European origin or descent'. Despite this barrier, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men enlisted at the onset of war, often under assumed cultural backgrounds.

This was the case of Pte Richard Martin, an Aboriginal man from Dunwich, Stradbroke Island who enlisted as a Maori born in Dunedin! After the landing at Gallipoli with the 15th Battalion, Pte Martin (Service No. 1359) was reassigned to the 47th Battalion on the Western Front. Martin received several wounds at Bullecourt, Messines and Passchendaele requiring treatment; upon his return to the battlefield, Martin was killed in action near the village of Dernancourt. The subsequent correspondence following his death confirmed his Aboriginality.

In light of this socio-political context, the list is by no means definitive as not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soldiers were identified. In 1931, Reveille, the magazine of the Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s League of Australia published a series of articles seeking names of Aboriginal soldiers who served in WW1. The image above is a list of Aboriginal soldiers who were killed in action or died of wounds; this was supplied by the Office of  the Chief Protector of Aboriginals, Queensland. A transcript of this list follows:


BLACKMAN, Alfred 3173

BURNETT, Frederick Arthur (11th LHR)

COMBO, B__(Benjamin)? (3rd Bn) 6977

DELANEY, Jack 5127

ELSDALE, William (47th Bn) 4484

GRAHAM, George 6077

HAINES, Tommy 3103A

JOHNSON, John (11th LHR)

MARSHALL, Archie (14th Bn) 3402

MARTIN, Richard 1359


PURCELL, Tom (15th Bn?) 7813A

REID, Billy

SMITH, Charlie 64382


VEHOW ?, Tom V.


AITKEN, George Robert (5, 5/25th Bn) Killed In Action

BAKER, Jack (32nd Bn) Killed In Action

BLACKMAN, Alfred John (7/41st Bn) Died of Wounds

BURNETT, Frederick Arthur (11th LHR) Killed In Action

CLAYTON, Wilfred (3/49, 41st Bn) Killed In Action

COMBO, Benjamin of Murgon (23/3rd Bn) Died of Illness at Sea

COOEY, Martin (4th Pioneers) Died of Wounds

DELANEY, Jack Killed In Action

ELSDALE, William 'Billy' (14/9th, 47th Bn) Killed In Action

GRAHAM, George Hamilton of Southport Killed In Action

HAINES, Tommy Killed In Action

JOHNSTON, John (11th LHR) Killed In Action

JOHNSON, Walter 'Wally' (25th Bn) Killed In Action

MARSHALL, Archibald James (41st Bn) Killed In Action

MARTIN, Richard (2/15th, 47th Bn) Killed In Action

MARTYN, Charles George (16/26th Bn) Killed In Action

PEHOW, Thomas "Tom" William (12th Bn) Killed In Action

PURCELL, Thomas "Tom" (15th Bn) Died of Wounds

REID, Billy Killed In Action

SMITH, Charlie Killed In Action

STACEY, Jack Killed In Action

STUBBINGS, William (5th Div RTC) Killed In Action

TRIPCONY, Albert (15/25th Bn) Killed In Action

VEHOW, Tom Killed In Action

WILLIAMS, Tommy Killed In Action


As a special supplement to their 20th October 2006 issue,  The Kurbingui Star newspaper compiled a list of "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Soldiers of the First World War". This Nominal Roll was based on the work of David Huggonson and Robert Hall and an electronic version is available through the AIATSIS website. Included in the listings is a Roll of Honour identifying 96 Indigenous men who died in the service of their country during WW1.

While uncertainty exists around these figures, the range of 62-96 casualties is quite sobering, given that recent research suggests there may have been as many as 1,200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who enlisted in WW1. A recent post indicates 5 known Aboriginal soldiers died at Gallipoli while the heavy casualties of the Western Front had a tragic impact on the AIF with many Aboriginal soldiers buried in communal war cemeteries. Pte C G Martyn from Goombungee lost his life at the Battle of Menin Road, near Ypres and is commemorated with a headstone at the Hooge Crater Cemetery, Passchendaele.

These are the soldiers we know of who paid the ultimate sacrifice; there are other untold stories of Indigenous involvement in WW1 and the State Library encourages families and communities to share their memories of Indigenous soldiers.


Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, Queensland Memory

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Participation in WW1 webpages


References and Further Reading

Kurbingui Star (2006) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Soldiers of the First World War. Special Supplement, 20th October 2006. Available online at AIATSIS.

Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s League of Australia (1931). Reveille, 30 November 1931. SQ 355 005

Scarlett, P. (2011) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF: The Indigenous response to World War One940.40994 SCA


Online Sources

AIATSIS Online Exhibition - Indigenous Australians at War.

Australian War Memorial: AWM Negative P00889.017

Australian War Memorial: Roll of Honour

Indigenous Histories Blog: Philippa Scarlett's Blog.

National Archives of Australia: Service Records.



Photos of Hooge Crater Cemetery and Daours Communal Cemetery Extension from Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Herberton War Memorial photo courtesy of Louise Denoon.


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