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The Knight brothers – decorated indigenous soldiers of WWI

This old photograph taken in France in 1917 shows a group of Australian Diggers from the 43rd Battalion – Albert Knight is standing on the far left, and his brother William is seated at the left. The photo was kindly provided by Austin Bourke of Dubbo via David Huggonson of Brisbane. Below: The Distinguished Conduct Medal {left) and Military Medal (right), awards won in the field by Albert and Bill Knight respectively.

In researching military history, one is likely to discover facts long since forgotten, and for this Anzac week, this is a worthwhile story.

Most readers of The Western Herald may not be aware that of the 20-odd medals awarded to Indigenous Australian soldiers in World War One, two were won by indigenous brothers from Bourke.

Both were serving on the Western Front in the 43rd Australian Infantry Battalion. Albert Knight won the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and his brother William Knight won the Military Medal (MM).

From the records, it appears Indigenous Australians were awarded three DCM’s, 11-13 MM’s and two were mentioned in dispatches.

Albert Knight was born on Toorale Station in 1894, the son of John and Elizabeth Knight and was from the Gunu Barkandji mob, the northern part of the Barkandji people.

Twenty-one-year-old Albert worked on stations around Bourke before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in Dubbo in 1915, with the Regimental Number 5709. He was posted to the 13th Battalion, which he joined near Ypres, Belgium in October 1916, at the beginning of one of the harshest winters in that area in living memory.

Trench life was miserable, wet, and freezing, and Albert became ill with influenza and was hospitalised in France until well enough to return to the front.

As winter abated there was dreadful fighting across the battlefields in northern France and Albert’s 13th Battalion was part of a hastily planned attack near the village of Bullecourt in May 1917. Tanks which were supposed to support the infantry broke down or were destroyed. The infantry managed to break parts of the German defence, but without supporting artillery fire, were eventually forced to retreat, suffering over 3,300 casualties. […]

Read more in the printed edition of The Western Herald.

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