Australian Army officially allowed the enlistment of 'Half-Caste' in May 1917.  Military Order 200(2) of 1917 stated that "Medical Officers had to be satisfied that one of the parents is of European origin".  One Queensland Medical Officer was to comment that some of the men presenting themselves at his recuitment centre were some of the "blackest half-caste that he had ever seen".
Villers-Bretonneux: A Strange Name for an Aboriginal Burial Ground

Archie Marshall - Barambah 1925

Archie Marshall, Frank Fisher and Martin Bligh??

Unknown soldier

Martin and Bligh wedding

Martin Bligh wedding 1925

Dark Horses - Aboriginal men of the Light Horse

Dark horses – Aboriginal men of the Light Horse focuses on twenty four (24) Queensland Aboriginal soldiers, with near consecutive registration numbers who enlisted in World War One.


In 1909, the Defence Act 1909 (Commonwealth) prevented those who were not of 'substantially European descent' from being able to enlist in any of the armed forces. This act was inforced when Australia delared war on the 1st August 1914. By October 1917, when recruits were harder to find this restrictions was eased. A new Military Order stated: "Half-castes may be enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force provided that the examining Medical Officers are satisfied that one of the parents is of European origin."

In 1914 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were not officially classified as citizens of Australia. Under the Protectors' Acts they could not enter a public bar, vote, marry non-Indigenous partners or buy property. Despite this many still wanted to support Australia by being involved in the war.  AIATSIS "why did they join" site states that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soldiers joined as like every other adventurous young Australian male, wanting to go out and see the world, get paid really good money, see some action and “be home before Christmas”.

A soldiers ability to survive in a hostile countries relied heavily on his commardes.  In the heat of battle a man is not judged by his race or colour, he is judge on other scales. For the first time Aborginal and Torres Strait Islanders did not experience racism.  They recieved the same pay as their Australian counterparts and were treated accordingly. Only when returning to Australia did the racisim raise it's ugly head again with these solders being shunned on arrival home, the denial to attend ANZAC ceremonies, their sacrifices ignored and their families oppressed even further by their respective State and Federal governments. They were denied the Discharge Soldier Settlement Scheme".

Under the Discharged Soldiers’ Settlement Act and Regulations of 1917, every discharged member of the armed forces, except Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was entitled to apply for land and financial assistance.


Distinguished Soldiers in WWI

Original World War One medal set

Star, British War  and Victory medals

Distinguished Conduct Medal

•    Corporal Albert Knight, 43rd Battalion.
•    Private William Irwin, 33rd Battalion.

Military Medal. 

•    Private William Rawlings, 29th Battalion.
      Killed in action 1918.

Prisoners of War

•    Private Douglas Grant, 13th Battalion.


Before viewing Dark Horses World War One Aboriginal soldiers you need to acknowledge that you understand that Aboriginal deceased people and information will be shown in the following pages. 

Wantima has provided Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients an easy access to some of the online resource available through the War Memorial and Queenslander magazine, via Trove [National Library of Australia], AIATSIS [Australian Insitute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies] and others.  

Aboriginal clients and family members acknowledge by clicked on the word ACKNOWLEDGE you have accept the responsilbity of view the material. 

2422/ Q20590    Brown William

2423/ Q20895    Burnett Fredrick 

2424/ Q20361    Collins Edward

2425/ Q20537    Costello Jack

2426/ Q20087    Doyle Harry

2427/ Q20461    Fitzroy Joseph

2428/ Q21548    Fisher Frank

2429/ Q20837    Geary John

2430/ Q21544    Johnson John

2431/ Q20563    Kearns Jack

2432/ Q20347    Laurie John

2433/ Q20493    Lingwoodock James

2434/ Q20943    Lynch Leonard

2435/ Q21225    Morris Frank

2437/ Q21057    Molloy David

2438/ Q21287    McBride James

2439/ Q21062    Nicholld William

2440/ Q20509    Oliffe Jack

2441/ Q20717    Pollard Jack

2443/ Q19711    Charlie Park / ..er / ..es

2445/ Q20357    Smith Edward

2459/ Q20359    Collins Fredrick


Aborigines: 11th Light Horse ..

Barambah Aboriginal Settlement Photograph Album

When war broke out in 1914, many Indigenous Australians who tried to enlist were rejected on the grounds of race; others slipped through the net. In 1917, when recruits were harder to find and one conscription referendum had already been lost, restrictions were cautiously eased.

A new Military Order stated: "Half-castes may be enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force provided that the examining Medical Officers are satisfied that one of the parents is of European origin." This is as far as the officials would go.

In the John Oxley Collection is the Accession Number: 5763 Title: Barambah Aboriginal Settlement Photograph Album  taken on the 3rd October 1925 by James Stopford, shows this push to acquire new soldiers into the war.  

Prior to 1917 Aboriginal soldiers would have to hide their Aboriginal identification. Frank Fisher's application has Barambah Settlement clearly marked.

Leonard Lynch's application has his wife name Violet as next of kin C/- the Cheif of Aboriginal Protector Brisbane

Further Reading

Hall, Robert A., Fighters from the Fringe: Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders recall the Second World War, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1995

Hall, Robert A., The Black Diggers: Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the Second World War, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1989 – reprinted several times

Huggonson, David, Villers-Bretonneux: A Strange Name for an Aboriginal Burial Ground, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland volume 14 issue 7: pp. 285-288

Jackomos, Alic, Forgotten Heroes: Aborigines at war from the Somme to Vietnam, Victoria Press, Melbourne, 1993

Peter Dennis, Jeffrey Grey, Ewan Morris & Robin Prior, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1995

Powell, Alan, The Shadow’s Edge: Australia’s northern war, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1988

Internet Sites

AIATSIS [Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
Indigenous at War - Why did they Join?


Australian War Memorial
Indigenous Australian Servicemen


Department of Veterans' Affair
A Brief History of Indigenous Australian at War


Queensland State Archives
Discharged Soldiers’ Settlement Act FactSheet


Teachers Resource

Australian War Memorial
Resource Book: Memorial Box 03 - Too dark for the Light Horses

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