Cornelius ROE #5187

Cornelius ROE

Indigenous Australian, Cornelius ROE, 9th & 49th Infantry Battalions

Private Con Roe’s father – Charles Edwin Roe, a grazier in Miriam Vale, died in 1904 leaving his mother Maggie one of the Gooreng Gooreng people, to provide for their four children – Charles William (Bill), Gwen, Ethel and Cornelius (Con).

In December 1915 just 19 years old, Roe put his hand up to join the first AIF and fight for his country. Slightly built and a fair complexion he would not have been questioned as to his heritage.

Medically examined, his application for service was accepted in Townsville and he was initially assigned to the 16th Reinforcements for the 9th Infantry Battalion. Roe embarked from Australia, aboard the troopship Star of Victoria, in the company of several other known Indigenous enlistments: Arthur Isles #5155 and Phillip Prince #5165.

Their ship berthed at Port Said, Egypt on 5 May 1916 before proceeding to France via Marseille, now part of the newly formed 49th Battalion, they entrained for northern France. Roe and his fellow reinforcements joined their unit in the field at Pozieres where they were in the front lines, on 18 August 1916.

Just three weeks later while in the front line at Mouquet Farm, Roe was severely wounded in the left thigh and evacuated to the 5th Southern General hospital, Portsmouth, in England. Roe spent several months recuperating and was granted two weeks leave in December before being required to report back for duty in January 1917.

Early in 1917 the 49th Battalion was engaged in the allied advance following the German retreat to the Hindenburg line. It was at Noreuil where they captured a railway cutting on the Cambrai-Arras line and where Private Roe was killed in action, on 6 April 1917.

Villers-Bretonneux memorial

Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux

The military authorities wrote to his mother Maggie Roe at Turkey Station and later Wadleigh, Miriam Vale to establish the Private Roe’s next of kin, and in order to dispose of his service medals and memorials. Con Roe had made a will, which left his assets to his sister Ethel, his medals and memorials were issued to his mother.

Private Cornelius Roe has no known grave and is named at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, built to commemorate over 10,700 Australian servicemen whose graves are not known.

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Marg Powell & Des Crump | QANZAC100, State Library of Queensland