Indigenous Australian, William RALPH, 15th Infantry Battalion
William RALPH’s story highlights the difficulties faced by indigenous families as they sought to be treated as equals among the general community.
Like many of his peers, William RALPH volunteered to serve with the first AIF, and in October 1915 while allied troops were still deployed to the Gallipoli Peninsula he was accepted to join the others of the 19th Infantry Battalion, training at Casula, NSW.
However in December 1915, his mother Annie wrote to the military authorities stating that William was underage and requested he be discharged from the service. Her request was granted.
It was around this time that Annie’s children & grandchildren were removed from the Nambucca Public School because they were Aboriginal, at the request of white parents. Her refusal to allow William to join the military, and fight for his country, is believed to be based not on his age but on the discrimination showed to her family.
Annie Ralph’s determination to have her charges educated in the public school system and not at an ‘Aboriginal school’ resulted in a decision more than 12 months later, allowing them to return to Nambucca Public School.
William in the meantime, successfully re-enlisted in September 1916 at Lismore, and like many recruits from the Northern Rivers area, was sent to Rifle Range camp at Enoggera, just outside Brisbane, this time as part of the 23rd reinforcements for the 15th Infantry Battalion.
They left Brisbane on board the troopship Kyarra in November, arriving in England six weeks later. After further training at Codford Camp, in Wiltshire he proceeded to France in May 1917 joining his unit in the field the next month, where they were in the front lines of Messines.
In the first week of July during heavy enemy shelling, William Ralph was wounded in action, but remained on duty with his unit. By September that year the conditions in the front lines took its toll on William and he was admitted to hospital suffering from ‘trench fever’ an infectious disease spread by the lice living in the soldiers uniforms. He quickly returned to duty and remained with his battalion until well after the war had ended.
The 15th Battalion were billeted at Philippeville while they waited for their turn to go home. Their presence was very welcome by the local population, in a region that had suffered terribly during the German invasion of Belgium in 1914.
William Ralph returned to Australia in June 1919 and married Annie Myra Ryan in 1921. For many years he worked as a labourer, but later in life was employed a park ranger on Clark Island, Sydney Harbour.
Read more …
- SERVICE RECORD 1: RALPH, William
- SERVICE RECORD 2: RALPH, William
- EMBARKATION ROLL: 22nd Reinf. 15th Infantry Battalion
- UNIT WAR DIARIES: 15th Infantry Battalion
- IMAGE: The Queenslander Pictorial, 26 May 1917
- ‘Mower held him’, The Daily Telegraph 9 December 1953, p15
- 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