Forgotten Soldiers Of WWI

They are about 1000 now and they went to fight for their country during the First World War. However, the respect they earned in the war, they lost it after their return in the society and now they call themselves the “forgotten soldiers.”

With the centenary of the First World War approaching and as Australians prepare to commemorate the start of the First World War, the forgotten soldiers are claiming their acts be remembered and mentioned in the history books and in the national mythology.

A recent front page of Sunday’s Sun-Herald reads: “It’s a very sad day for a lot of our mob,” and attached to the quotation is a large picture of the new Australian of the Year and indigenous AFL footballer, Adam Goodes. 8709 Australian soldiers and 2721 New Zealand soldiers lost their lives at Gallipoli, Turkey.

They did not have to go to war and in 1914 they weren’t even recognized as citizens, although they fought in the First World War, in the Second World War, in Vietnam and many other conflicts. However, as the numbers of dead in the World War I reached unexpected figures, recruitment officers began to ignore the law and encouraged indigenous men to enlist in the war, The New Zealand Herald reports.

For some of them, especially the young ones, the war meant liberation from all the restrictions they had to endure, with authorities telling them what they can or can’t do, where they can live and where they can work and most of the times withholding their wages.

The war meant they were equal. Equal in how they were treated, equal in how they were paid  and they all had equal opportunities and faced the same challenges as their white comrades. The Australian Imperial Force was the only Commonwealth force who didn’t discriminate and had mixed units. Just like in trenches, where black and white soldiers stayed together and supported each other during those difficult times, through suffering and privations.

“Once you put on a uniform, colour is irrelevant,” said the author of Black Diggers, which debuted at Sydney Festival last week, Tom Wright. But upon their return to Australia, all the respect they earned in the war, seem to be denied by the society, since most indigenous former soldiers were refused service in pubs, regardless of their uniforms and medals. Some cities refused to even list the names of Aboriginal soldiers on war memorials.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE