Lest we forget our unsung war heroes

Aboriginal soldierAnzac Day has special meaning for families of those killed in action, but the stories of long-forgotten returned soldiers are still being recovered.

One of these stories, of Indigenous soldier Frederick Prentice, suddenly came to prominence this month after his First World War One Military Medal was found abandoned in bushland near Boulder-Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

Mr Don Christophersen, a senior lecturer with Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and Wellbeing based at Flinders Northern Territory Medical School, is campaigning to have the medal installed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra where Frederick’s other World War One Star medal is held.

He says it could form part of a special exhibition of Indigenous soldiers’ war efforts is due to open in September.

“From war records and national archives, we are finding out a lot of incredible stories of bravery among those who fought in the armed conflicts, from the Boer War to Afghanistan,” says Mr Christophersen, who is part of a working party putting together stories and material from the NT for the national exhibition.

“This year marks the 101st anniversary of the landing of Anzac troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula, but it was the Western Front where the young Private Prentice earned his stripes.

“He enlisted with the SA Regiment Engineering Battalion in Adelaide, and fought on the Western Front for almost four years.

“Corporal Prentice received a Military Medal for bravery when he ran across open ground among shellfire and bullets for more ammunition and parts for a machinegun.

“Then he survived virtually as the last man standing to return to Australia after the war.”

However, like many returned soldiers, Frederick Prentice didn’t return to mainstream life but drifted around Australia chasing work at the goldfields before returning to his mother’s ancestral area near Katherine, dying a lonely death in 1957 only to be buried in an unmarked grave at the age of 65.

Almost 70 years later, his Military Medal was found by a fossicker near Boulder-Kalgoorlie – only one of seven Military Medals awarded to the 1000 or so Indigenous soldiers who fought in the Great War.

Mr Chrisophersen, a lecturer in Aboriginal history and contemporary culture, has spent years researching many stories of extraordinary Northern Territory Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

He says it is important for these stories to be told.

For several years, he has campaigned for other Indigenous war veteran headstones to be installed in Darwin and other NT cemeteries.

The lonely grave of Cpl Prentice at the old Katherine Cemetery might be the next.

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