Indigenous Australian, John (Jack) Huggins, 9th & 26th Infantry Battalions.
Jack Huggins was almost thirty years old when he was accepted to serve for his country on New Years Eve, 1915. Tall and lean, he was a stockman like his father before him, used to working in the harsh conditions of northern Queensland.
Jack’s previous attempts to enlist had been unsuccessful, but with the help of the local mayor, who described him as a ‘fine stamp of a man’ he was invited to proceed to the training camps at Enoggera, just outside of Brisbane.
One week later, along with the other recruits accepted from Charters Towers that month, Jack began his basic training and in February 1916 he was selected to join the 18th Reinforcements for the 9th Infantry Battalion. Before embarking for overseas, he took the opportunity to marry Fanny Constantine (1885-1945) at the Registry Office at Red Hill, Brisbane.
Fanny was born on Fort Constantine Station, near Cloncurry and although in 1909 was recorded as being ‘an Aboriginal woman in service’ she had been granted an exemption certificate in 1914, allowing her to live and work freely among the greater community. In 1916 she was the housekeeper for Mrs Annie Tilston in Albion, Brisbane whose son Edward Spencer Tilston was serving with the 42nd Battalion.
Jack left Brisbane on board the ‘Seang Choon’ early May 1916 and arrived in Egypt five weeks later. While troops had already been evacuated from operations on the Gallipoli Peninsula, they were stationed in camps near Cairo, as they were chosen to sail either directly to France or onto England for further training.
Jack Huggins arrived in England in August and spent two months at the 3rd Training Battalion, Perham Downs, a military camp on the edge of Salisbury Plain, before sailing for the front lines of France.
The reinforcements landed at Depot Camp, Etaples where Jack and many other soldiers contracted mumps, and were admitted to hospital for several weeks. Jack was finally considered fit enough for active service, but before entering the front lines was transferred to the 26th Infantry Battalion.
He joined them at Vignacourt, north of the Somme River Valley on 3 December 1916, during one of the harshest European winters recorded for many years.
Four weeks later Jack was admitted to a Casualty Clearance Station with acute appendicitis, and returned to his unit in the field late January as the Battalion was preparing for an offensive. Jack Huggins was not to participate however, as he succumbed to the new enemy of Influenza which began to spread among the troops under the harsh front-line conditions.
He was evacuated to England and treated at the military hospital at Clacton-on-Sea, after which he was granted two weeks well-earned leave, before heading back once again to France to rejoin his Battalion – this time as they were being inspected by the Army Corps Commander Lieut. Gen. Sir W.R. Birdwood at Woestyne in Belgium.
In early October the 26th Battalion was heavily involved in the capture of Broodseinde Ridge, this was where Jack Huggins was wounded in action, for the first time. He was evacuated with serious injuries to his left arm, first to Camiers, then to England where he spent four weeks recovering in the Norfolk & Norwich War Hospital.
Considered fit and well in February 1918 he was again returned to his unit but within weeks he was again amongst the casualties, receiving injuries to his right leg, which would require him to be evacuated again to hospital in England. Jack was admitted to Bethnell Green Military Hospital, 5 April 1918 and would never return to the front line.
His recuperation was assisted by time spent at convalescent camps, but by the time the armistice had been signed in November 1918, Jack Huggins had been listed for return to Australia on the next available ship. He disembarked in Melbourne at the end of January 1919 from HMAT Saxon and waited for transport that would take him home to Queensland and his bride. He was medically discharged in April 1919.
Jack Huggins and Fanny Constantine moved back to northern Queensland, there they had a son in January 1920, whom they named John Henry Huggins.
Read more …
- SERVICE RECORD: HUGGINS, John
- EMBARKATION ROLL: 18th Reinf. 9th Battalion
- BIG CATTLE MOVEMENT. The Sydney Stock and Station Journal, 19 May 1914, p8.
- Fanny Constantine, exemption
- ‘Obituary John Huggins’ Townsville Daily Bulletin, 3 September 1942 p.5
- ‘Obituary, Fanny Huggins (nee Constantine)’ Townsville Daily Bulletin 28 June 1945 p6
- GROUP PHOTOGRAPH. 18th Reinforcements, 9th Infantry Battalion: The Queenslander Pictorial, 3 June 1916
- 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