Indigenous Australian, Fred JOHNSON, Light Horse Depot Regiment.
Recruit Fred Johnson was born in Banana, Qld in 1883. When he put up his hand to serve with the first AIF in May 1917 he was employed as a labourer and living at the Barambah Aboriginal Mission, now known as Cherbourg.
Fred was among 17 Aboriginal men who were recruited during a drive by the Queensland Recruiting Committee. The committee represented by Chaplain Canon Garland and protector of Aborigines Mr. Blakeney travelled by train to the Mission to specifically recruit men for Active Service.
10 days later in Brisbane, during a patriot speech given by recruiting officer Lieutenant Colonel [Chaplain] David Garland, a line of Light Horsemen rode past each leading a riderless horse.
The 17 recently recruited men from Barambah took up these mounts in a [staged] demonstration of their patriotism and paraded along Queen Street to ‘considerable cheering.’
However their inclusion in the first AIF was short-lived. All 17 recruits were discharged just 30 days later on Wednesday, 13 June 1917, for “having been irregularly enlisted”.
The men were returned home to the mission, under escort, with out any receipt of payment or any discharge documents.
The AIF was brutal in its response when queried for their action – ‘a coloured man must have been associated with white people for some time prior to enlistment’ – and those who were considered too dark ‘would not make soldiers’.
- SERVICE RECORD: Johnson, Fred
- ‘Empty saddles filled’ Brisbane Courier, 25 May 1917, p.7
- ‘Aboriginal recruits’ Brisbane Courier, 20 June 1917, p.7
- ‘Enlistment of half-castes’ Daily Mercury, 14 May 1917
- One of the soldiers featured in SLQ’s HistoryPin Collection
- View the whole Collection: Indigenous enlistment
- Queensland’s Indigenous Servicemen Digital Story and Oral History
Marg Powell & Des Crump | QANZAC100, State Library of Queensland