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Reginald Walter Saunders - The First Aboriginal Australian To Be Commission Officer







Thousands of aboriginal Australians enlisted and served in the defense force since 1901. Several have won decorations, but the first was Reginald Saunders of Victoria. Reginald Saunders Was born on the 7th of august 1920 in Puruim Victoria, of the Gunditjmara peopleą. Reg’s father and uncle served with the first AIF. He was named after his uncle, who served in the twenty-ninth battalion˛, he was awarded a military medal for the rare bravery  in the performance of his duty. Reg grew to love the accomplishments of his father and uncle. Shortly After his mother’s death in 1924, he was taken by his father to Lake Condah Mission, where he received his primary education. Since he didn’t like being away from his family, Reg dropped out of school at the age of 14 to work as a mill hand in a timber yard.

Whenever Reginald’s father and his friends talked about the first world war, he would take every bit of information, eager to eventually join the army in the near future. When he had that opportunity for the second world war he and his friends signed up in swarms. He was enlisted in the 27th battalion of the 6th Australian division in April 1940. His outstanding leadership skills, personable characters and sport skills were recognized immediately. He was promoted to the rank of lance corporal within weeks. Within the next few months he was promoted sergeant.The first battle Reg faced was in Libya as a reinforcement. He took part in the push to Benghazi. In April 9th 1941 Reg accompanied his battle in Greece. The troops soon  withdrew and continued to Crete. On the way, his ship was bombed and sunk. He managed to scramble aboard a destroyer.   Nearer to Harry’s 18th birthday [Reginald’s younger brother.] he finally convinced the  recruiting officer that he was old enough to enlist into the army. He joined the 2/14the battalion. He later Met up with Reginald in a campsite and took leave to Jerusalem.

In Crete Reg again was involved in air attacks, this caused the British to flee off the  island. Reg was one of the many thousands who were left behind. While being stuck on  the island for about a year, which was an easy take because he was dark skinned and  passed as a Mediterranean descent. Soon they were secretly taken off the island by a submarine in 1941. Arriving back in Australia Reg was set into the 2/7th battalion in New Guinea. He quoted that he rather fight in the jungle because you had coverage when you  had to duck, but if in the desert the bullets would bounce off of you.     It was when Reg was in New Guinea when Harry was killed during the fight on the  Kokoda trail. While being promoted to commissioner, he was also the first aboriginal to  reach this ranking in the army. He soon returned to Australia to attend officer Training  school at the infantry wing of officer cadet training unit, Seymour. He graduated as a  lieutenant in 1944. On behalf of the aborigines’ association Adelaide, the secretary wrote him a letter of  congrats. Soon replied by Saunders on December 18 1944 stating


Dear Sir,

Thank you very much for your kind wishes and congratulations.

My philosophy is that once a person undertakes to do something, no matter how big or how small, that person should do it to the best of his or her ability. Which may account for my very small part in helping pave the road to ultimate victory.

Many thanks for your book. Many of the people mentioned in it are very familiar to me.

You mentioned in your letter an attitude towards people of my race. I am sorry, but neither you nor I can change that attitude, because (the) changing of it rests with the Aborigines themselves, and my contribution towards helping them is just simply by setting myself up as an example – not by words, which are cheap, but by deeds.

Once again, Sir, I thank you, and wish you and your fellow workers all the best of luck.

I remain,
Yours sincerely,
(Sgd.) R. W. Saunders



Reg Spent the Remainder of the war as a lieutenant in charge of a platoon of up to thirty  Australians. He later served in Korea where he was also promoted Captain in charge of  the “C” company of the 3rd battalion, where he took place in the famous battle of  Kapyong in 1951.    Having fought in the war Reg left Korea in 1952 and resigned from the normal army in  1954. He moved to Sydney after the war and became the captain of his cricket team and  president of the sub-branch RSL. In 1969 he moved to Canberra and took up employment  as liaison officer at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, remaining there until his  retirement in 1981. He was awarded MBE in 1971, and was appointed Council war  memorial in July 1985. He soon Later died on March the 2nd 1991 ages 69. There has  been a scholarship in honor of Reginald Saunders, it is for drug and alcohol abuse  studies in 1992.  His medals and portrait are on display in the Korean War gallery in the Australian war memorial.