Sunday History Photo / Person

Submitted: Sunday, Apr 24, 2011 at 07:47
ThreadID: 85824 Views:3937 Replies:5 FollowUps:1
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Reg Saunders was born in 1920, in Purnum, Victoria, near the Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve. Reg Saunders and his brother Harry both served in the army. Harry was killed in action in New Guinea. Reg was shot in the knee in a separate action, but returned to the 2/7th Infantry Battalion after his recovery.
Reg had enlisted in the 2nd AIF on 24 April 1940. After completing initial training he was allocated to the 2/7th Battalion, which was serving overseas in North Africa at the time. His natural leadership qualities led to him being promoted quickly. Within six weeks of enlistment he was promoted to lance corporal, within three months he had made sergeant.

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Reg managed to escape from Crete in May 1942 after hiding for 12 months from the Germans and returned to Australia, rejoining the 2/7th, which had been reformed in Palestine before being brought back from the Middle East to help defend against the threat posed by Japan's entry into the war. He subsequently fought in the Salamaua-Lae campaign, where while serving as a platoon sergeant he took over command of a platoon when his platoon commander was wounded. For his leadership, he was recommened for a commission by his commanding officer. Undertaking a 16-week course at an officer training unit in Australia, he was promoted to lieutenant in November 1944, becoming the first Aboriginal commissioned officer in the Australian Army. His commission had caused the Army some trepidation due to its "special significance", finally going before the Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Thomas Blamey,(who came to Mt Bundy) for approval. Nevertheless, Blamey is reported to have insisted upon following the usual procedure and, after his promotion was confirmed, Reg returned to New Guinea and rejoined the 2/7th, taking part in the Aitape-Wewak campaign and commanding a platoon until the end of the war.
Reg was discharged from the Army on 5 October 1945 and returned to Australia. There he learnt that his young brother Harry, with whom he had enlisted in 1940, had been killed in action. He volunteered for service in Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, but the government would not accept Aborigines for this operation. In the ensuing years he worked as a shipping clerk and a builder's labourer before rejoining the Army when the Korean War began.

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Promoted to captain, Reg served with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment commanding 'C' Company during the Battle of Kapyong in April 1951. He returned to Australia in November 1951.
Later life following the end of the Korean war, he remained in the Army overseeing training for national servicemen. However, he soon became dissatisfied and in 1954 he was discharged from the Army and went to work in the logging industry in Gippsland in Victoria. After this he moved to Sydney where he worked with the Austral Bronze Company until 1967. Due to his achievements Reg was seen by many as a role model and spokesman for Aborigines, in 1967 he took up a position in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs as an Aboriginal Liaison Officer. He also became involved in the Returned and Services League. In the Queen's Birthday Honours of June 1971 his community work was recognised when he was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (Civil Division).
A well-respected soldier, leader and spokesman for the Aboriginal community, Reg was married twice, with both marriages ending in divorce. He was the father of ten children, two of whom predeceased him. He died on 2 March 1990.

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Reply By: Member - Ruth D (QLD) - Sunday, Apr 24, 2011 at 08:00

Sunday, Apr 24, 2011 at 08:00
Good Morning Doug, this is a particularly interesting history this morning and I have enjoyed reading it.
Ian and I are in Birdsville and I will march tomorrow here - Sully is here also but so far haven't seen anyone else. This will be on of the first years for a while when there has not been an Army contingent here for the Service - but that's nice as we always ran our own Service in the past.
Weather is beautiful and clear and the water receeding quite quickly with the dry days - just under the bridge now and flowing very quickly. No fish but a few yabbies.
Keep well Doug and keep up the great history lessons.
Ruth and Ian
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Reply By: blue one - Sunday, Apr 24, 2011 at 09:06

Sunday, Apr 24, 2011 at 09:06
Thanks Doug
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Follow Up By: Member - John L (WA) - Sunday, Apr 24, 2011 at 11:13

Sunday, Apr 24, 2011 at 11:13
Thanks Doug, Good to read about such a good Aussie soldier so close to Anzac day. Cheers Heather & John
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Reply By: Member Bushy 04(VIC) - Sunday, Apr 24, 2011 at 15:18

Sunday, Apr 24, 2011 at 15:18
Thanks Doug, another great article.
Good on you for the tribute to a good soldier.

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Reply By: Member - Duke (TAS) - Sunday, Apr 24, 2011 at 22:06

Sunday, Apr 24, 2011 at 22:06
Top story Doug, well done.
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Reply By: Member - Bruce C (NSW) - Monday, Apr 25, 2011 at 16:17

Monday, Apr 25, 2011 at 16:17
Hi Doug,

Many thanks for today's effort mate, always appreciate your Sunday history sessions.

Interestingly I have a book on Reg Saunders and it takes pride of place on my book shelves. It is called "The Embarrassing Australian" and was written by Harry Gordon.

There was nothing embarrassing about Reg. He was a soldiers soldier. He was well respected by all his men and senior officers alike. The ABC did a docudrama about Harry Saunders, Reg's brother and covering the time he entered the army till he was killed in New Guinea. Reg's father, or grandfather was it, can't quite recall, was a West Indian sailor who had jumped ship in Adelaide and eventually married Reg,s mother.

Makes for a damn good read and as I said the book takes pride of place on my bookshelves. The book explains why he became dissatisfied with army life.

Thanks again Doug.
Cheers, Bruce.
At home and at ease on a track that I know not and
restless and lost on a track that I know. HL.

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