Guest Blogger: Tilly Geary
Maitland Madge was born in March 1894 at Cooktown, Cape York to Ella an Indigenous woman and Richard Madge an immigrant from Devon, England.
In 1905 possibly to prevent his son from being taken away to a government mission Richard Madge applied for Maitland to be exempted from the Aboriginals Protection Act of 1897. Madge senior registered Maitland’s birth and enrolled him at Kelvin Grove Boys School. The 1905 Annual Report of Queensland Chief Protector of Aboriginals reports Maitland Madge was granted an exemption from the Protection Act at the age of ten.
Madge volunteered in Brisbane in August 1915, his address is recorded on the embarkation roll as Harcourt Street, Teneriffe. After training at Fraser’s Hill, Private Madge left for the Great War on the 21st October 1915 on the HMAT Seang Bee in the company of the 11th Reinforcements to the 15th Battalion. He was 21 years of age.
After the voyage to the Middle East the 15th Battalion now part of the 4th Brigade disembarked at Marseilles from Alexandria and Madge was transported through France with many thousands of others to the western front. The 15 battalion was engaged in some of the fiercest fighting at Pozieres and on the 11th August 1916 Madge is reported as wounded in action North West of Pozieres and taken to a Hospital at Etaples. In the days from the 5th to 11th August with no concern for his own safety, Madge while acting as a messenger had moved between Company and Battalion Headquarters under continued enemy artillery fire. All communication lines were cut and this meant messages about the current operations were carried by hand.
The account given in the Commonwealth Gazette, No. 62 reads:
‘These men [3483 Maitland MADGE and 4580 Sydney MAY] are recommended for conspicuous bravery while acting as messenger during operations north west of POZIERES from 5th to 11th August, 1916. These men were continually moving to and from Company and Battalion Headquarters under intense H.E. artillery barrage. The telephone lines were being continually broken, and the only method of communication was then by messenger. They showed an utter disregard of their own safety, and an admirable contempt for danger, and it was entirely owing to their self-sacrifice that the operations were so well supported by our own artillery and that Battalion and Brigade Headquarters were so closely in touch with progress of operations. Our losses in messengers were very heavy. There were several instances of these messengers being blown up by H.E. shells exploding near them, and some of them were rendered semi unconscious from shell shock, but after a short rest returned to their dangerous work.’
Due to his actions Madge would later be decorated with the Military Medal, which would make him, most probably one of the first Indigenous Australians to receive such an award from the King. [Note: ongoing research has indicated that Frederick Prentice received his Military Medal in July 1916.]
The Military Medal was awarded to Private Maitland Madge on 1 October 1916 while he was still recovering in hospital. On 29th January 1917 he rejoined his Battalion and again was wounded on the 4th July 1918. It is reported that Madge even though wounded for the second occasion remained on duty. Madge remained in France for the duration of the war and returned to Australia on the Ascanius in April 1919, he was discharged from service on 24th May 1919.
Little is known about the life of Maitland Madge after his return from World War One. Maitland Madge is listed on the 1925 Electoral Roll for Maranoa as a Labourer at Gore working in the Lime Quarry. By 1936, Maitland is in North Queensland and listed on the Ingham Electoral Roll working as a Labourer at Halifax.
When again war was declared in August 1939 Madge was working in Townsville as a security guard. In October 1939 Madge again volunteered to serve in the Australian Army. Madge joined up in Townsville to the 1st Garrison Battalion even though he was now over 45 years old. His father had died in 1931 his mobilization papers list his next of kin as Miss Violet Madge of Townsville, his cousin.
By August 1941 Madge as part of the 2/26 Battalion, 8th Division had landed in Singapore. Madge was ill when taken prisoner by the Japanese forces in February 1942. Madge survived over two years at the Changi Camp and it is recorded that he passed away on the 7th June 1944 whilst a prisoner of war.
Private Maitland Madge MM is buried at the Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore. He was survived by his cousin Violet Madge. The State Library would be keen to hear from any descendants of Maitland Madge.
Thanks to Tilly for sharing this amazing story of an Aboriginal soldier.
Indigenous Languages Coordinator, Queensland Memory
State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Participation in WW1 webpages
National Archives of Australia: NAA: B883, QX1836; NAA: B883, Q186400, NAA: B2455, Maitland Madge 3483.
Commonwealth Gazette No. 62, 19 April 1917.
1905 Annual Report of Queensland Chief Protector of Aboriginals.
HMAT Seang Bee, 1915. JOL Negative 82596.
Specimen Military Medal, AWM: RELAWM06315.006.
WW1 Nominal Roll, Australian War Memorial.
Australian Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980.