Please note: this story contains images of and references to people who have died.

According to not-for-profit organisation, Australians Together, over 800 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people served in World War I. Recognition for Indigenous people in wars has been a hard fought battle—one which is still current.

As a tribute to Indigenous ANZACs, NIT is bringing to the fore the lives of four young Ngarrindjeri men from the Coorong Lower Lakes and Lower Murray region of South Australia, who went to war and never returned home to their families.

 

Private Cyril Rigney

Private Cyril Rigney was born on February 22, 1897. Prior to enlistment, Rigney was occupied as a labourer at Point McLeay Mission (now Raukkan) on the edge of Lake Alexandria. He married his wife, Constance Maud Varcoe, on January 17, 1916, before enlisting for the war. The couple were soon blessed with Constance falling pregnant.

Unfortunately, Private Rigney never met his daughter Aileen Marth, born December 22, 1916—five months after Private Rigney left for the war.

Private Cyril Rigney. Photo via Connecting Spirits.

Private Rigney enlisted for WWI on April 26, 1916. He departed from Adelaide three months later on July 12, 1916 on HMAS Seeang Bee. As he was under 21 at the time of enlistment, he was required to gain permission from the Protector of Aborigines to enlist.

Private Rigney arrived in France via Southampton, England on November 25, 1916. He fought under both the 43rd and the 50th Battalions and was killed in action on the July 3, 1917 at just 20-years-old.

 

Private Rufus Rigney

Brother of Private Cyril Rigney, Private Rufus Rigney was born in Point McLeay on November 29, 1899.

Private Rigney was one of the many young men to enlist with a false date of birth. After gaining permission from the Protector of Aborigines, Private Rufus Rigney enlisted on August 9, 1916. He was 16 at the time but had registered as 18-years-old.

Private Rufus Rigney. Photo via Connecting Spirits.

Private Rigney embarked for England from Sydney aboard the Commonwealth on September 19, 1916. After disembarking in Plymouth, Private Rigney contracted the mumps, postponing his journey to France until January 16, 1917.

On March 4, 1917, Private Rigney was wounded by shrapnel and returned to England to receive treatment. He later returned to France where he was transferred from the 32nd to the 48th Battalion on the June 29, 1917.

Private Rigney received a gunshot wound to the lung in the First Battle of Passchendaele, and was treated by the Germans, but died on the October 16, 1917. Private Rufus Rigney was 17-years-old when he died in service of our country.

 

Private Francis Varcoe

Private Francis Varcoe was born in Point McLeay on October 16, 1895. He enlisted on the August 23, 1916, and soon after embarked the HMAT Afric from Adelaide on November 7, 1916.

Private Francis Varcoe. Photo via Connecting Spirits.

On January 9, 1917 Private Varcoe arrived in Plymouth. He was taken on strength to the 27th Battalion in France on the April 9, 1917.

Private Varcoe was killed in action in the Second Battle of Bullecourt on the May 5, 1917. He was 22-years-old at the time of his death.

 

Private Arthur Walker

Private Arthur Walker was born in 1883 at Wallaroo, a port town on the Yorke Peninsula. He enlisted in Adelaide on the March 29, 1915.

Private Arthur Walker embarked on the Kingstonian, leaving his pregnant partner at home. His son was born on the first ANZAC day, and in memorial of his father’s sacrifice to our country, he was named Anzac.

On the September 18, 1915, Private Arthur Walker joined the 10th Battalion at ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli and remained there until evacuation.

Private Arthur Walker. Photo via Connecting Spirits.

Private Walker then spent five months of 1916 in Egypt, being transferred to the 50th Battalion. He was then moved to France in June, 1916, where he took part in the Battle of Mouquet Farm, and was subsequently reported missing.

It was later determined that Private Walker was killed in action on August 16, 1916. He was 33-years-old.

In commemoration of his father, his son Anzac later joined the armed forces in his adulthood.

This ANZAC Day we remember all Australians that served to protect our country.

All service details were sourced from Connecting Spirits with permission.

Connecting Spirits is a community venture that is open to anyone wishing to take part. The organisation takes tours to WWI battlefields. For more information on the WWI tours please visit: http://connectingspirits.com.au/.

By Caris Duncan