Topic: AAB-Education Centre
The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre in conjunction with the various Education authorities in Australia, has embarked upon producing a program of instruction targeted initially towards the Later Adolescence band of scholars, characteristically those who are studying in Year 9 and 10 within Australia. Each lesson will be a self contained module. Some will be more difficult than others and graded accordingly.
Lesson 11 Aboriginal Light Horsemen
[From: AWM P01695.001]
Indigenous Australians have always been part of the Australian Story from the inception of European colonisation. This was recognised until Federation in 1901 when Aboriginals were virtually stripped of their citizenship by the Constitution, a situation that remained till 1967. Despite that, Aboriginals played a minor but significant role in the subsequent life of the nation. During the Great War, despite prejudice, many Aboriginal men enlisted in the AIF. They faced the same dangers as everyone else, won medals for bravery and some paid the ultimate price with their lives. In this lesson students explore the history of Aboriginal participation in the Australian Light Horse during the Great War; identify issues of specific Aboriginal concerns; research and produce a military biography; develop conclusions based upon the available information; and deliver findings of the study.
When dealing with the subject of Aboriginal servicemen from the Great War, it is important to be aware that in some Aboriginal communities, hearing or seeing names or seeing images of deceased persons might cause sadness or distress, particularly to the relatives of these people. Some Aboriginal cultures may also have prohibitions on who may see certain records based on the age, or sacred or sensitive status of information in them, as it relates to individuals of any particular Aboriginal group. If you feel that your inherited culture falls within the categories mentioned in this section and you feel that it would be inappropriate for you to participate in this learning session, your teacher already understands this and will allow you to undertake an alternative activity.
- What do we mean by the term “race”?
- What is an Aboriginal?
- Why is the understanding of Aboriginal history in Australia important?
In considering the idea of “race” let us take a few minutes to think about the idea of a nation and the community.
- What sort of groups form in the community?
- In the past, when the Great War broke out, why were Aboriginals excluded from Australian society?
The Light Horse
Let us look at the way Aboriginal Light Horsemen were treated during the Great War
Access the file of Pte Tom Cooper
Read the Attestation Paper, page 3. What do you think the phrase “Not of substantially European descent” really means? Would you like that to happen to you?
Access the file of 2919 Pte Alfred John Henry Lovett.
Was Alfred John Henry Lovett treated more fairly than Pte Tom Cooper? Why do you think this is so?
One thing to notice that once accepted as a soldier in the AIF, there was no discrimination in relation to treatment and pay.
From the Australian War Memorial Encyclopaedia:
Indigenous Australian servicemen
Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders have fought for Australia, from the Boer War onwards.
Change in attitudes
Generally, Aborigines have served in ordinary units with the same conditions of service as other members. Many experienced equal treatment for the first time in their lives in the army or other services. However, upon return to civilian life, many also found they were treated with the same prejudice and discrimination as before.
First World War
Over 400 Indigenous Australians fought in the First World War. They came from a section of society with few rights, low wages, and poor living conditions. Most Aborigines could not vote and none were counted in the census. But once in the AIF, they were treated as equals. They were paid the same as other soldiers and generally accepted without prejudice.
Enlistment and Service First World War
When war broke out in 1914, many Aborigines who tried to enlist were rejected on the grounds of race; others slipped through the net. By October 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 was as far as Australia – officially – would go.
Why did they fight?
Loyalty and patriotism may have encouraged Aborigines to enlist. Some saw it as a chance to prove themselves the equal of Europeans or to push for better treatment after the war.
For many Australians in 1914 the offer of 6 shillings a day for a trip overseas was simply too good to miss.
Aborigines in the First World War served on equal terms but after the war, in areas such as education, employment, and civil liberties, Aboriginal ex-servicemen and women found that discrimination remained or, indeed, had worsened during the war period.
Self paced learning activity
Choose a name from this list or perhaps your teacher will allocate a name per person. This section works best if everyone has a different Aboriginal light horseman’s service file. There are 26 names in this list.
Each file will have 5 pages. Underneath every page is a list of information to extract from the file.
The front cover of the Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad provides the reader with the following information:
- Service Number,
- Given Names,
- Married or Single,
- Next of Kin Relationship,
- Next of Kin Name and Address,
- Enlistment Date.
The third page of the Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad provides the reader with the following information:
- Chest Measurement
Try to convert the height and chest measurement into metres. Remember: 1 foot = 0.305 metres; and, 1 inch = 0.0245 metres.
Try to convert weight into kilograms. Remember: 1 stone = 14 pounds or 6.35 kilograms; and, 1 pound = 0.454 kilograms.
The next two pages are from the B103, the Casualty Form - Active Service which is a summary of the service performed by the serviceman in the Australian Imperial Force, AIF. To help you understand some of the abbreviations used on this form, there is a list of common terms
To understand the terms employed in the B103, the Casualty Form - Active Service, an index is available here:
The front of the B103, the Casualty Form - Active Service provides the reader with the following information:
- Rank on Enlistment,
- Terms of Enlistment,
- Embarkation Date,
- Embarkation Port,
- Embarkation Ship,
- Date Taken on Strength with the 11th LHR.
The back of the B103, the Casualty Form - Active Service you may find a further chronology of the serviceman. However, you will only need to find the following information:
- Did the serviceman Return to Australia; and,
- The date this occurred.
The term “Returned to Australia” is the date the serviceman departed from the overseas placement, and specifically in the case of the Aboriginal light horsemen, it means the date they left Egypt. The arrival in Australia is a different date usually about a month later.
Page 1 of the Transferred to Australian Imperial Force D provides the reader with the following information:
- The last rank held in the AIF,
- The date of Discharge,
- The place where Discharged,
- The eligible medals awarded to the serviceman.
When you have extracted all the information, your teacher will ask you to present it to the class. As all the information is collected and collated, you will see some very interesting things happen. You will note items like the most common occupation at the time of enlistment or when most men were discharged from the AIF. Your teacher will help you to understand this information.
Here are some questions you might like to think about.
- What motivated these men to enlist?
- Were the men treated the same as the non-indigenous Light Horse?
- What did they feel towards the man they were researching in terms of his experience?
- Did experiences vary? How? Why?
- What was it like to be an Aboriginal Light Horseman?
Aboriginal members of the 11th LHR were regularly employed as trackers. Here is one story about two men employed as trackers during the Egyptian Rebellion of 1919. This comes from Hammond, EW, History of the 11th Light Horse Regiment, Fourth Light Horse Brigade, Australian Imperial Forces, Singapore, 1984, p. 142:
A soldier of the 3rd Gurka Regiment. was murdered by natives while on patrol, and the miscreants were tracked by Corporal Allen and Driver Smith to a village near Abu Hammad on the Cairo-Port Said railway. The Omda (head man of the village) renounced all responsibility in the matter. and, in fact, became defiant and even truculent towards our men. This action, at such a time, was, to say the least of it, foolhardy, and retribution descended swiftly upon him and his people. The soldiers surrounded the village and organised parties escorted the women and children to safety. The troops then entered the village, and after thrashing every man in it with their fists the soldiers burnt the houses to the ground. It is a pleasure to relate that after the "clean up" the guilty natives (three in number) confessed the crime and were later court-martialled and sentenced to death.
Driver Smith was one of men from the 11th LHR 20th Reinforcements studied in the learning assignment. Here are his details.
You can look a bit deeper into their stories by looking at the activities of the 11th LHR when these men joined the unit.
Here are some items you that can access to read about the 11th LHR in the Jordan Valley.
Now something to think about:
- Did the participation of the Aboriginal men as servicemen during the Great War influence any change in the Australian treatment of the Aboriginal people in general?
When you recorded the location in Australia described as the address of the Next of Kin of the person you examined perhaps you could research some details about this location.
Perhaps you could research the full National Archives file of the person you studied. Extract more details that might be found on the Service Files.
You might research the service life of 2430 Pte John Johnston and produce a report.
- Light Horse
- Great War
- “Not of substantially European descent”
- Attestation Papers
- half caste
- Taken on Strength
1. An indigenous person who was born in a particular place;
2. A dark-skinned member of a race of people living in Australia when Europeans arrived; and,
3. Is a person of Aboriginal descent who identifies as an Aboriginal and is accepted as such by the community in which he (she) lives.
1. A local geographic or global human population distinguished as a more or less distinct group by genetically transmitted physical characteristics.
2. A group of people united or classified together on the basis of common history, nationality, or geographic distribution: the German race.
3. A genealogical line; a lineage.
4. Humans considered as a group.
11th LHR History
External Reference to Wikipedia:
Citation: Aboriginal Light Horsemen, Part 11, Students outline