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In the Centenary of ANZAC, 'The Stafford Brothers' online exhibition commemorates the service and sacrifice of the original ANZACs, and generations of Australian servicemen and servicewomen.
This is a story of three Aboriginal servicemen, descendants of the Darug (Warmuli Clan)/Gamilaroi, who served in the Australian Light Horse, part of the Australian Imperial Force in the First World War.
Lest we forget.
Just over a decade before the First World War, on 1 January 1901, the Australian Constitution came into effect, establishing the Commonwealth of Australia. Under the Constitution the states remained responsible for the welfare of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Shaped by prevailing attitudes of racial superiority and paternalism, all states enforced special laws and protection policies.
Through these laws and policies, State governments severely controlled every aspect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ lives. Across the nation, they suffered poor health and living conditions on many reserves and missions with sub-standard shelter or housing, meagre rations, and poor education; employment was controlled, often with rations for payment or wages withheld, and speaking language and other cultural practices were prohibited.
The impact of British rule on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was devastating, including social disruption, population decline, economic exploitation, discrimination and cultural devastation.
On 28 July 1914, the First World War began and on 4 August, both the Prime Minister of Australia, Joseph Cook and the Opposition Leader, Andrew Fisher pledged full support to Britain. This was greeted with great enthusiasm. Just under two weeks later, the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was established.
Incredibly, close to a thousand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men enlisted in World War I (WWI), defending a country that had been taken from them. Their voluntary enlistment was more remarkable, given the rule that Australia applied to recruit servicemen to the AIF was “substantially of European origin".
Background image: Australian troops marching in Martin Place, Sydney, 1914, Guy Herwald Parker's personal photograph album, World War I, 1914-1918. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
The First Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF) was the main expeditionary force of the Australian Army during World War I. It initially comprised of one infantry division and one light horse brigade.
A voluntary force, the AIF expanded and by the end of World War I, had gained a reputation as being a well-trained and highly effective military force, playing a significant role in the final Allied victory. This reputation came at a heavy human cost with the casualty rate among the highest.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men were accepted for enlistment to the AIF, their racial background overlooked if they had not lived in a tribal environment.
During the latter part of WWI when casualty figures reflected the intensity of the war and recruitment figures began to fall, a Military Board directive in 1917, was:
"Half-castes may be enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force provided that the examining Medical Officers are satisfied that one of the parents is of European origin."
Soon after there was a large increase in the number of Aboriginal Australians enlisting, including the Lovett Brothers of the Gunditjmara people from Victoria’s western districts.
Background image: Soldiers from the 1st Light Horse Brigade near Salt, Jorda, 1917. Courtesy of National Library of Australia.
The first Lovett brother to enlist was Alfred John Henry who was involved in the battle of Pozieres. The AIF sustained as many casualties in six weeks in Pozieres as they did in the entire Gallipoli campaign. Alfred was the first of 21 Lovett family members to serve Australia in war and peacekeeping operations since the First World War. Today, Lovett Tower in Canberra is named in honour of the family’s generations of service.
Aboriginal Diggers were accepted into the ranks and many experienced respect from their fellow servicemen for the first time. One such Digger was a soldier named Barber who at a recruiting meeting stated the officers in Armidale “treated him like a white man.” However many were still paid less than non-Indigenous service personnel.
The Australian Light Horse (ALH) holds a revered, almost mythical, place in the hearts and minds of Australians. They have been immortalised in poetry, song and films such as the 1987 film The Lighthorsemen.
The 1st Light Horse Regiment was raised from recruits of New South Wales at Rosebury Park in Sydney in August 1914. It was one of three regiments of the 1st Light Horse Brigade – the first mounted formation committed by Australia to the First World War.
From 1915 to 1918, three brothers from the Stafford family – Charles Fitzroy, Clyde Gilford Ortley and John Harold, descendants of the Darug (Warmuli Clan)/Gamilaroi – enlisted and served in the Australian Light Horse as part of the Australian Imperial Force in World War I.
This is their story.
Background image: Courtesy of Australian War Memorial
Tinplate badge featuring a silver gelatin montage on the face, circa 1918, AIATSIS Collection, MS 5013.
The photomontage on this tinplate badge are of Pte Clyde Gilford Stafford, Pte John Harold Stafford and Col. Charles Fitzroy Stafford descendants of the Darug/Gamilaroi.
The badge came from a time when a mother wore a visual representation of pride and honour for a son or sons serving in war. It was perhaps a way of keeping a son close to a mother’s heart.
The badge of the Stafford brothers is an example of a photomontage, a technique popularised during the First World War. The technique involves the creation of a composite photograph by cutting and joining two or more photographs into a new image.
Background image: Courtesy of Peter Morphett.
The Stafford brothers are descended from a Prospect or Cannemegal (Warmuli) clan woman, Black Kitty, who was placed in the Parramatta Native Institution in 1814 at the age of five.
The Parramatta Native Institution was established by NSW Governor Macquarie to assimilate Aboriginal children, educate, train and Christianise them into colonial societal standards. Once the children were sent to the institution they were not allowed to return to their parents or to their lives as they knew it.
Kitty first married Boorooberongal (Richmond) man Colebee, who had been granted land in the Richmond area of NSW. In 1831, Kitty is mentioned in a blanket list as being widowed in her 20s living in Richmond. Aboriginal people wore animal skin cloaks, the main form of warmth and insulation from the cold. These cloaks would take a year or more to make and were much warmer than the blankets. Nevertheless, Governor Macquarie initiated the distribution of blankets to Aboriginal people in the hope their adoption of blankets would encourage civilised habits and cooperation. So began the blanket list.
Kitty then married English convict Joseph Budsworth (aka Henry Joseph Budsworth) in 1832. Joseph had been assigned to Magistrate William Cox in 1829 in Clarendon and it may have been this connection that led him to meet Kitty.
They had six children, one of whom was Catherine Budsworth, born in 1832 on the Liverpool Plains. The family then moved to the Maitland area.
In 1852, Catherine Budsworth married Joseph Stafford, an Irish convict from Cork who had been assigned to James Hale’s Bomera Station, located at the foot of the Warrumbungle range north of Coolah. They had seven children including John Allan Stafford, born in the year 1857. He was also known as John Allen Stafford.
In 1865, Mary Ann of the Gamilaroi people was born in Binnaway to Anna Mahan and Thomas Henry Blackman or Captain Blackman, as he was known. Blackman was an Aboriginal man and was the son of doctor and farmer, Thomas Blackman and Aboriginal woman Mary Ann.
In 1884, Mary Ann and John Allen Stafford married in Coonabarabran. They had 12 children including Charles Fitzroy, Clyde Gilford and John Harold.
Background image: John Allen Stafford with children in a horse-drawn sulky. c1920s. ANDREWS.C01.DF-D00027563
The three Stafford brothers, Charles Fitzroy, Clyde Gilford and John Harold were enlisted in the Australian Light Horse, having distinguished themselves as horsemen.
For their service, all three brothers were awarded the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal and a King's Certificate of discharge.
Clyde and Charles Stafford were also awarded a Silver War Badge.
Background image: Courtesy of Australian War Memorial and Department of Defence
Charles Fitzroy Stafford enlisted on 12 February 1915 aged 25 and at the time, he was a Farrier (Horse-Smith). His unit was the 12th Australian Light Horse Regiment, A Squadron, which was part of the 4th Light Horse Brigade. Charles’ rank on enlistment was Shoeing Smith.
During his training, and prior to his embarkation, Charles was promoted to Shoeing Smith Corporal.
The Regiment sailed from Australia in two contingents and on 13 June 1915, Charles embarked with his contingent from Sydney on HMAT A29 Suevic. The ship arrived in Aden, located in the south of modern-day Yemen, on 12 July 1915. This contingent was to reinforce the British garrison against a predicted enemy attack. However, they left Aden for Egypt on 18 July without having seen action.
The Regiment was reunited in Egypt on 23 July. They trained in an infantry role as the Regiment had been ordered to leave their horses in Australia. A month later it deployed to Gallipoli.
The regiment was split up again, to reinforce the light horse regiments already on Gallipoli. On 3 October, Charles who was on A Squadron went to the 1st Light Horse Regiment. The squadron mainly carried out defensive duties before leaving with the last ANZACs who evacuated Gallipoli on 19-20 December 2015.
On 21 February 1916, suffering from mumps, Charles was admitted to the 4th Auxiliary Hospital in Cairo. This could have been life threatening as more soldiers died of communicable and respiratory diseases than gunshot wounds. He remained in hospital for three weeks.
On 12 March, he was reabsorbed into the 12th Light Horse Regiment in a mounted role and in May, he joined the forces defending the Suez Canal. In April 1917, he deployed into Palestine taking part in the ill-fated second battle of Gaza.
After the second battle of Gaza and in the summer months, the mounted troops were in constant reconnaissance and in preparation for the offensive to come. During this period Charles sustained a broken forearm while shoeing a horse.
This injury would continue to trouble him, resulting in three separate hospital admissions and impairing his grasping function.
In what was to become collectively known as the third battle of Gaza, the Battle of Beersheba, took place on 31 October 1917. The final phase of this all day battle was the famous mounted charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade, storming through the Turkish defence and seizing the strategic town of Beersheba. Despite his injury, Charles stayed steadfast to his fellow troopers in what is remembered as the last great calvary charge of Beersheba.
After the fall of Gaza on 7 November 1917, the men of the 12th Light Horse Regiment spent the first few months of 1918 finally resting and training. The regiment moved again, taking part in the Es Salt Raid, manning defences on the West side of the Jordan River.
In August of 1918, the regiment was issued with swords and trained in traditional cavalry tactics in preparation for the next offensive against the Turks. The objective ‘Damsascus‘ and Charles’ regiment was one of the first Australian units to enter Damascus. The regiment was on its way to Homs when the Turks surrendered.
On 30 October 1918, representatives of Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire signed an armistice treaty, marking the end of Ottoman participation in the war.
While waiting to go home, the 12th Light Horse Regiment were called back to operational duty to subdue the Egyptian uprising that erupted in March 1919. Charles served alongside his younger brother John Harold Stafford. This would be Charles’ last deployment and John’s first.
In May 1919, just prior to his return to Australia, Charles contracted malaria and finally embarked for home aboard HT Dunluce Castle on 17 July 1919 from Suez, Egypt. He was discharged from military service on 21 November 1919.
In 1927, Charles married Phyllis Beggs in Gunnedah and they had one child. He worked for the Liverpool Plains Shire Council most of his life.
At age 64 Charles Fitzroy Stafford passed away, a well-known and highly respected member of the Gunnedah community, he was accorded a military funeral.
Charles is buried at the Gunnedah Cemetery in New South Wales.
Background image: Courtesy of Peter Morphett
Clyde Gilford Ortley Stafford enlisted on 15 February 1917 aged 22 and at the time, he was a farmer. His unit was in the 1st Light Horse Regiment, 25th Reinforcement. Clyde’s rank on enlistment was Private.
On 10 May 1917, Clyde embarked with the unit from Melbourne on the HMAT A42 Boorara.
Clyde participated in the First Amman Raid between 22 March and 30 March of 1918. The intention was to inflict casualties on Turkish forces and sever railway communications with Damascus. During the Raid the village of Es Salt was occupied, and the attack commenced on 27 March. Fierce fighting continued for two days and the force caused serious damage on the railway but the Turkish resistance was so strong that the British forces withdrew.
Clyde was wounded on 23 March 1918. He was not evacuated and remained on operational duties.
On 7 October, Clyde was made a lieutenant and driver in the Light Horse Field Ambulance. As a driver he had a dangerous and precarious position, having to rescue and evacuate the wounded whilst being shot at. This may have been the reason he reverted to being a trooper at his own request in November 1918.
Clyde’s unit was also involved in the third battle of Gaza, whose aim was to divert Turkish attention away from British forces and the Battle of Beersheba on 31 October 1917. Gaza fell to the British on 7 November 1917.
Just like his older brother Charles, Clyde contracted mumps in 1917 and then malaria in 1918. He suffered severely from the diseases and was incapacitated as a result.
On 13 March of 1919, Clyde embarked for return to Australia aboard HT Ulimaroa from Kaliptara, Egypt.
In 1920, Clyde married Jean Annie McInnes in Burwood, Sydney. They had nine children. Clyde worked as a senior fitter repairing train engines in Binnaway.
He was affectionately called “Gundy” and was a happy giant and perfectionist in his job.
Clyde died in Belmore, Sydney aged 53 on 22 June 1947.
Background image: Courtesy of Rod Thompson
John Harold Stafford was 20 years old when he first enlisted. He was rejected on the grounds of being 'medically unfit'. He possessed scars on his back and leg, which may have been acquired as a result of working as a shearer and farm labourer.
On 23 July 1918, now aged 21 he enlisted again and at the time he was a labourer. He was enlisted to the 14th Australian Light Horse Regiment. John’s rank on enlistment was Private.
The Regiment formed in Palestine in June 1918 and incorporated former Imperial Camel Corps (ICC) alongside horse-mounted troopers. The 14th Regiment joined with the 15th Regiment and a regiment of French colonial cavalry to form the 5th Light Horse Brigade.
John departed from Sydney on HMAT Malta on 16 October 1918 and disembarked in Suez, Egypt on 22 November 1918.
Whilst the 5th Light Horse Brigade fought only in one major battle – The Battle of Megiddo – by the time John arrived in Egypt it was all over and Turkey had already surrendered.
Just as the 14th Australian Light Horse Regiment was getting ready to return to Australia they were called back to operational duty to subdue the Egyptian uprising that started in March 1919. This is the only operation that John was involved in.
On 24 July 1919, John with his regiment sailed from Kantara on 24 July 1919 aboard the HT Dongola. They arrived back in Australia on 28 August 1919.
As a result of termination of his enlistment period, John was discharged on 13 September 1919.
John remained unmarried and returned to shearing and caring for his ageing parents – John Allen and Mary Ann Stafford.
Whilst out in a paddock in 1929, he tripped over a log and sustained a broken neck, dying as a result.
John is buried in the Binnaway Cemetery with his father, who died not long after.
Background image: NSW servicemen portraits, 1918-19 - John Harold Stafford. Courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales
According to the Australian War Memorial, the number of men with Indigenous Australian heritage who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in the First World War stands at 823, other estimates put the total figure between 1000 and 1200.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men served in practically all branches and units of the AIF: infantry, light horse, artillery, engineers and the flying corps. Many of servicemen won a number of decorations for gallantry, including four Distinguished Conduct Medals and 17 Military Medals.
Upon their return home, Indigenous Australian soldiers had a mixed reception. Whilst their communities celebrated their survival and praised them as heroes, their relationship with Government and missions returned to what it was prior to their enlistment.
Writing in the Adelaide Register of 2 August 1919, Ngarrindjeri journalist Matthew Kropinyeri tells of preparations at the Raukkan (Point McCleay) Aboriginal Mission for the imminent arrival of their soldiers and the celebrations that followed.
In the Richmond River Express Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser of 2 September 1919 we gain an insight into the use of Aboriginal cultural practices and singing in language as part of the welcome home for their soldiers.
Soldier settlement schemes enabled returned service personnel access to land. Indigenous soldiers were not specifically excluded but the assessment process was prejudiced against them and many were rejected from the scheme.
In some cases Indigenous soldiers had their own land taken from them to be given to a non-Indigenous soldier. They were barred from enjoying a drink with the fellow servicemen and mates they had fought alongside, and from marching in Anzac Day marches.
Through sharing stories we come to understand the Australian experience and learn from those who served for our country, like the three Stafford brothers, Charles Fitzroy, Clyde Gilford and John Harold.
In commemorating the ANZACs, we salute them.
Background image: The 14th and 15th Australian Light Horse Regiments embarking for Australia on the troopship "Dongola" at Kantara. (donated by colonel A.J. Mills, DSO., VD.)
In August 2014, the Stafford Papers were gifted to AIATSIS. They highlight the remarkable story of Alfred 'Alf' George Stafford, a Gamilaroi and Darug man, and his role in Australia’s political history, serving as chauffeur to 11 Australian prime ministers. Alf, the youngest of twelve children, was the brother of Charles, Clyde and John.
The collection includes personally signed letters and photographs from prime ministers and political figures, material relating to his induction into the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), military service and sporting achievements. It also includes genealogical and family history research painstakingly collected by his granddaughter and collection donor Michelle Flynn.
Family information, some photographs and objects for this Online Exhibition are drawn from the Stafford Collection at AIATSIS. We extend our thanks to depositor, Michelle Flynn.
Background image: A portrait of Alfred George Stafford, eight years old, saluting and wearing a uniform and slouch hat. c1914 : Binnaway, N.S.W. STAFFORD.A01.DF-D00026106
AIATSIS acknowledges the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, culture and community.
We pay our respects to elders past and present.