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The only native Papuan to serve the Empire in WW1

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Hi all,


During the First World War and at various times during the 1950's, the story of the Empires only native Papuan soldier kept popping up in Australian newspapers. I came upon his story by chance and thought I would share this now forgotten individual.


Samuel William John Wilson was the son of John Newcombe Algoe Wilson from Armagh, a lineal descendent of the Duke of Schomberg, one of the Generals of William of Orange. His mother was Arabutha, daughter of Kagudori, Chief of Riu, Sudest Island, Papua New Guinea. Samuel was adopted at some stage by Mr John Robert Craig, Queensland resident, Pearl Diver and regular business visitor to Papua New Guinea - Craig also championed Papuan civil rights.


During the First World War, Samuel really got around - from a mutiny on his way to German New Guinea in 1914, to hard service in Gallipoli and Flanders. In 1918 he was convicted of desertion in the field and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and was supposedly wounded slightly at Gallipoli on six occasions, blown up at Pozieres and gassed twice. Two of these wounds required hospital treatment and were noted in his records.




What follows is a bullet point summary of Samuels First World War service:


·     Pre war member of the “Dirty 500“ - D Company, 2nd Battalion Kennedy Regiment.

·     08/08/1914 – Embarked for Garrison Duty at Thursday Island.

·     14/08/1914 – Enlisted for service outside Australia.

·     16/08/1914 – Embarked on the Troopship Kanwna at Thursday Island, to take part in the capture of German New Guinea.

·     06/09/1914 – Taken on the strength of the AN&NEF.

·     18/09/1914 – Returned to Townsville due to the Mutiny on board Kanowna. Did not take part in the capture of German New Guinea.

·     18/09/1914 – Discharged from AN&NEF.

·     19/12/1914 – Enlisted for the 9th Battalion AIF at Cairns.

·     11/02/1914 – Departed Sydney on the Troopship Seang Bee as part of the 2nd Reinforcements.

·     02/05/1915 – Joined 9th Battalion on Gallipoli Peninsula.

·     28/08/1915 – Admitted to hospital with Gastro Enteritis.

·     17/11/1915 – Rejoined 9th Battalion on Gallipoli Peninsula.

·     25/02/1916 – Transferred from 9th Battalion to 49th Battalion AIF.

·     16/08/1916 – Wounded in Action – Shell Shock and Debility at Pozieres.

·     15/03/1917 – Rejoined 49th Battalion AIF.

·     05/04/1917 – Admitted to Hospital – Trench Feet.

·     02/11/1917 – Rejoined 49th Battalion AIF.

·     08/03/1918 – Admitted to hospital – Diarrhea

·     19/03/1918 – Rejoined 49th Battalion AIF.

·     25/04/1918 – Wounded in Action – Gassed.

·     08/06/1918 – Rejoined 49th Battalion AIF and Deserted.

·     23/06/1018 – Arrested and found guilty by FGCM – Sentenced to 5 Years Penal Servitude.

·     27/08/1918 – Joined No.7 Military Prison.

·     11/03/1919 – Likely to have taken part in the Mutiny at No.7 Military Prison though no further information is found.

·     08/04/1919 – Released from Prison.

·     10/04/1919 – Rejoined 49th Battalion AIF.

·     23/06/1919 – Returned to Australia.


After the First World War Samuel fell on hard times, and committed numerous crimes from drinking publicly, assault, vagrancy, theft, house breaking and providing "sly grog" to aboriginal Australians, he was always referred to as Coloured or Aboriginal in the papers. He re-enlisted at the beginning of the Second World War for Garrison Duty and was discharged at some stage, details will follow once I have applied for his record.


An interesting post script to Samuels story is that he married a white Australian woman in the 1950's, apparently the first native Papuan to do so - this was highly reported on as one can imagine.




Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the read and I would welcome any discussion on his service and story.



Edited by RedCoat

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

Wonderful history.

Thanks for sharing.

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I surpose you read the story of this;


"18/09/1914 – Returned to Townsville due to the Mutiny on board Kanowna."


The mutiny was not by the soldiers from the CMF (2nd Kennedy Regt or to the British like there TF) relisted for service outside Australia.


The fireman or below the water line crew of the ship jacked up, as many trade unionist did in Australia during the war for one reason or another.


I remember there refused to load the (beer) ship for the troops in Veitnam in the 60's, the reason many old soldiers still have noting to do with these trade unions, and the labor party now days.





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10 hours ago, stevebecker said:

as many trade unionist did in Australia during the war for one reason or another

Hi Steve,


This is pretty unfair and these men were later tried and acquitted in Brisbane in 1914.  It has nothing to do with trade unions.  I first looked at this when wondering why my grandfather had an identical line in his service record.


It turns out that the Kanowna and crew were requisitioned on the outbreak of war and sent first to Thursday Island, then Port Moresby, then despatched to Rabaul.  The force was ill-equipped (no mosquito nets in Port Moresby would have been interesting) and short of boots and other essentials.  The ship left Moresby with insufficient water and the stokers (firemen) were shovelling coal in tropical heat.


They refused to continue just outside Port Moresby and were escorted onto the deck by soldiers with fixed bayonets.  The Kanowna headed back to Townsville, stoked by volunteers.  Hugh Quinn, of Quinn's Post at Gallipoli, was one of the soldiers, a member of the Yungaburra Rifle Club like my grandfather.

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Fair or not, a number of unionist jacked up due to one thing or another.


I am not saying they didn't have a case, only it came at a time when they were needed to do there jobs.


Of cause most of the trouble came due to the problems we had with the prody and RC's, with an Irish connection.


But the Kanowna, so called jack up, was over there work condtions as you say.


Its an interesting time in Australia as this new coloney made its way in the Big world.


I have many men from the 2nd Kennedy Regt in the LH men in my records, and the recruitment of the CMF was interesting for overseas service.


The law made service outside Australia illegal, much as the British TF was in the UK. so special laws had to be made so they could be relisted under the AN&MEFto serve in PNG. This in WWII was made easy as PNG was an Australian protectorate after WWI, allowing CMF units to be sent there.





Edited by stevebecker

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