Thanks to some great detective work from Robyn Hamilton in the Q ANZAC 100 team, we can announce the ‘re-discovery’ of two Aboriginal soldiers from Freestone who served in WW1. An online article from November 2015 held the tantalising clue of a line which read “a tale of a man, who managed to get into the army despite being half-Aboriginal.” The article referred to Walter Edward Smale (Service No 794) whose service is recognised by an Honour Board at the Warwick RSL sub-branch. A previous blog post provides further details on the Honour Roll.
This Honour Board was the work of artist and teacher Charles Astley and commemorates men from Freestone who served in World War One. The central image is of Walter Smale who is believed to be the first casualty from Freestone. This image has been digitised and is in the State Library Collections – 30051.
Further details on the background of Walter Smale and his family have emerged. Walter was the son of Alfred Smale and Emily Thorne – Emily was from the Yuggera people of Ipswich and the daughter of John Thorne and Frances Marsh, an Aboriginal woman. ‘Granny Emily’ as she was known in the Freestone District raised five children in a slab hut on Charley’s Gully Road – two of these James and Walter served in WW1.
Walter enlisted in December 1914 at Warwick and was assigned to the 2nd Light Horse and embarked for Gallipoli. Walter possessed a strong arm with an accurate aim; these qualities were ideal for ‘bomb-throwers’ whose role was to hurl bombs into the Turkish Trenches prior to the infantry charge. It was a highly dangerous action as each bomb-thrower would carry 10-12 bombs in the face of heavy enemy fire. Walter died during one such charge at Gallipoli on 8 August 1915. In November a letter from a fellow soldier was published in the Warwick Examiner and Times on 15 November 1915 – Pte C Stanley had been injured in the same battle and wrote from a military hospital bed in Malta describing how Walter was ‘a brave man to the last’.
James was the oldest son and had immigrated to New Zealand – he enlisted in March 1917 and served with the New Zealand forces [Service No 53880: 2nd Battalion Canterbury Regiment]. James is an unusual example of Indigenous Australians serving other countries in WW1.
Freestone: a mostly true history. J 994.33 BJO.
Granny Emily and her family’s story is told in Krista Bjorn’s publication ‘Freestone: a mostly true history‘. It provides an insight into a well-respected Aboriginal woman who served as a mid-wife for the Freestone community and is fondly remembered in the District.
State Library of Queensland is researching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soldiers who volunteered or served in WW1; currently we have about 250 soldiers listed. However, new men such as Alfred and Walter Smale are being identified and help tell an untold story of the First World War. The Q ANZAC 100 project acknowledges there are more stories out there that need to be told and shared; we encourage descendants and community members to contact State Library.
Indigenous Languages Coordinator, Queensland Memory
References and Further Reading
30051 Freestone Memorial Hall Honour Roll 1919
Bjorn, K. (2014) Freestone: a mostly true history. J 994.33 BJO
Gladstone Observer online news article, 11 November 2015. ‘Walter Smale war hero tale one of Freestone’s greatest‘.
NAA WW1 Service Records – Walter Edward Smale
NLA – Trove Newspapers: Warwick Examiner and Times, 15 November 1915. ‘Soldier’s Letter: How Private W Smale was killed‘.
Pte W E Smale, p. 25 Queenslander, 18 September 1915.