From around 3.30pm on Remembrance Day – 11 November – two key areas of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, will forever be called ‘Captain Reg Saunders Gallery’ and ‘Captain Reg Saunders Courtyard’.
“Captain Saunders is perhaps our country’s best known Aboriginal soldier,” a statement from the Australian War Memorial reads.
“The values he stood for in addressing discrimination; his reasoning for inclusion and sameness for Indigenous Australians within the Australian Defence Force; and his work and achievements as an advocate are truly admirable.”
Although thousands of Indigenous Australians enlisted and served in Australia’s defence forces since 1901 and several have won decorations, Captain Saunders was the first to be promoted to a commissioned rank.
“My philosophy is that once a person undertakes to do something, no matter how big or how small, that person should do it to the best of his or her ability, which may account for my very small part in helping pave the road to ultimate victory,” Captain Saunders wrote in late-1944, replying to a letter of congratulations for his war efforts received from the Aborigines’ Friends Association Adelaide secretary, Rev. Gordon Rowe.
“…You mentioned in your letter an attitude towards people of my race,” the letter continues.
“I am sorry, but neither you nor I can change that attitude, because (the) changing of it rests with the Aborigines themselves, and my contribution towards helping them is just simply by setting myself up as an example – not by words, which are cheap, but by deeds.”
Indigenous academic and historian Dr Jackie Huggins will give the keynote address at the official naming ceremony at the Australian War Memorial and there will also be a special presentation by singer/songwriter John Schumann.
This year, 11 November marks the 97th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War (1914–18).
Each year on this day Australians observe one minute’s silence at 11 am, in memory of those who died or suffered in all wars and armed conflicts.
Who was Captain Reg Saunders?
- Reginald Walter Saunders was born on 7 August 1920 as a member of the Gunditjmara people, from just outside Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve in the western district of Victoria.
- Captain Saunders served in New Guinea (WWII) where he was nominated for promotion to a commissioned rank.
- He was graduated as a lieutenant in December 1944.
- Reg Saunders later served in the Korean War, where he was promoted to captain in charge of “C” Company of the 3rd Battalion, and took part in the famous battle of Kapyong in 1951.
- He resigned from the regular army in 1954.
- Captain Saunders died at 69-years-old on Friday 2 March 1991.
- His medals and portrait are on display in the Korean War gallery of the Australian War Memorial.
Source: Australian War Memorial