Research uncovers first known Indigenous soldier to die on active service

Private Walter Joseph Parker is the most recent addition to the Australian War Memorial’s Indigenous Boer War list and, as current research stands, is the earliest known and identified Aboriginal soldier to make the ultimate sacrifice while in service.

“The inclusion of Private Parker’s name and his sacrifice has now re-set our understanding and knowledge of Indigenous service in the Boer War,” Memorial Director, Matt Anderson, said.

“This discovery was made through ongoing research to commemorate the stories of First Nations service.”

Collaborative and tenacious research has found he served as part of the Western Australian colonial contribution to the war in South Africa.

“Aboriginal enlistment and service in the Boer War has been the source of much speculation, arising from the time of transition from colonies to Federation. The Memorial has now identified 10 Aboriginal men who served, nine of whom returned,” the Memorial’s Indigenous Liaison Officer, Michael Bell, said.

“As with all other service and conflicts, the potential for these numbers to increase is evident, suggesting that the current total of 10 does not represent all who served.”

Private Parker was born on 6 July 1874 in Gingin, Western Australia, to Mary Benyup, whose mother was a traditional Noongar woman.

Research shows that, like many other Aboriginal volunteers, Private Parker made at least two attempts to enlist in the First Western Australian Contingent but was unsuccessful. Not to be deterred, he tried again and was accepted into the Fifth Contingent of the Western Australian Mounted Infantry. The contingent shipped out from Freemantle on 7 March 1901.

On arrival in Durban on 28 March 1901 the Fifth and Sixth Contingents were combined. The combined contingents returned to Australia in 1902, arriving at Fremantle on 29 April.

Private Parker was not to return alongside his comrades; he died of typhoid at Standerton, in the Mpumalanga region on 22 January 1902.

Private Parker’s story will be told and commemorated today, 7 July, at the Australian War Memorial’s Last Post Ceremony.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a long tradition of fighting for Country and have served in every conflict and commitment involving Australian defence contingents since before Federation.

The stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are an important part of the Memorial’s storytelling. Anyone with information about Indigenous servicemen and servicewomen is encouraged to contact the Memorial.

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