The Forgotten Indigenous Soldiers of Walhallow - Part 2

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Posted on 28 September 2022

The Men of Walhallow

Russell Johnson had always had a degree of luck, shot through the neck as a young man at Caroona and now having survived The Great War, he was on his way home. He was born in Quirindi New South Wales, on the Walhallow Aboriginal Station. George, his brother who worked at the local store and his mother Sarah Johnson were anticipating his arrival. A widow, Sarah would welcome her son home, to hopefully return to his job as a labourer on Walhallow Station. Arriving from France, he boarded the Hospital ship TSS Karoola at Southampton, England, suffering from trench nephritis. The Karoola docked in Cape Town, South Africa, on its way to Fremantle, Western Australia. That night, when Johnson went ashore on leave, he stepped in front of a tram falling under its steel wheels. His injuries exposed and severed his spinal cord at the 11th thoracic vertebrae. Johnson’s trip home was halted.  Sarah would receive a shattering telegram “Private Russell Johnson, disembarked Cape Town 29th May. Fractured spine, accidental, seriously ill.” A month later he boarded the Themistocles and was delayed again when the Themistocles struck another boat in the bay. He finally arrived in Australia in August 1919, but he would never see his mother or Walhallow again. After disembarking Russell was transferred to Randwick Military Hospital in Sydney, where he died on the 30th of December 1919 and was buried a Rockwood Cemetery. Despite serving in the Great War and being from Quirindi, you will not find the name Russell Johnson on the Quirindi and District War Memorial.

Thomas Williams was determined to fight in the Great War. In January 1916 he enlisted, had a medical examination in Manilla NSW on the 4th January and passed. At the age of 41 years, he was appointed to the 33rd Battalion and sent to camp at Rutherford NSW. While being of “good character” unfortunately Thomas, was discharged in April 1916 medically unfit. Thomas Williams may have been “medically unfit” due to race; the standards the country recruitment officers accepted also knowing the abilities of these bushmen, were not in line with the career hard-line officers when they attended the major camps.

Three months later Thomas enlisted again under the name of Mathew Revenew, stating his age six years younger, at thirty-five. He joined the 6th Light Horse regiment as a wagon team driver and was sent to Egypt.

On the 5th of November, he was injured when a team of horses took-off with a wagon, rolled and although thrown clear, Mathew broke his ribs. Local “native”, Admed Mohamed Ghazi, came to his rescue and stated the accident was not Revenew’s fault when Revenew’s actions were investigated. Thomas was valued for his horsemanship and continued to serve until the end of the war in 1919.

 The majority of the Walhallow servicemen enlisted in 1915 – 1916. The men unsettle the narrative that Aboriginal servicemen mostly enlisted after 1916. Indigenous service is often interpreted as more palatable when the need for recruits increased after the mass casualties of Gallipoli, and the bitter and costly battles of the European winter and the Hughes Government was unable to win conscription favour in 1916. These men dispel the myth Aboriginal people had only a partial role in the war, the use of such narratives was away earlier often used, to not invite the remembrances of Indigenous people into ‘our’ memories of ANZAC.

Author Cate Hayton