This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988
William Reginald Rawlings (1890?-1918), Aboriginal soldier, was born probably in September 1890 at Purnim, Victoria, only son of William Rawlings and his wife Elizabeth Mary, née Gorrie. His family were well-known and respected members of the Framlingham Aboriginal community and of the wider local community. William Rawlings senior was noted as an athlete. The family has among its descendants the boxer Lionel Rose and Reg Saunders, distinguished soldier of World War II and the Korean War and first Aborigine to gain commissioned rank in the army.
The Rawlings took an active part in opposing the policy of the Victorian Board for the Protection of Aborigines whose aim in the late nineteenth century was to remove able-bodied 'half-castes' from Aboriginal stations and to close the stations. Framlingham was closed in 1890. Many Aborigines, including the Rawlings, refused to move. As a result a small area of land was reserved for Aboriginal use. The Rawlings fought hard to stay on that land. Framlingham remained their home except for a period of forced removal to the Lake Condah Aboriginal station in 1898-1900. William senior was the Framlingham community representative presented to the Prince of Wales at a reception at Camperdown in 1920.
Rawlings enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force from Warrnambool on 14 March 1916, giving horse-breaking as his trade. He embarked on 1 August and joined the 29th Battalion in France on 25 November. After serving with a trainee battalion in England in April-October 1917 he returned to the 29th which in mid-1918 was involved in two periods of very heavy fighting. On the night of 28-29 July the 29th and 32nd Battalions made successful advances along Morlancourt ridge. For his part Rawlings was awarded the Military Medal, the recommendation reading:
During the attack on enemy systems this soldier had the responsible position of first bayonet man in a bombing team which worked down the enemy C.T. [communication trench], routed the enemy and established a block in the trenches. Private Rawlings displayed rare bravery in the performance of his duty, killing many of the enemy, brushing aside all opposition and cleared the way effectively for the bombers of his team. His irresistible dash and courage set a wonderful example to the remainder of the team.
On 9 August the 29th Battalion was involved in the capture of Vauvillers. Rawlings was killed in this action and was buried in Heath cemetery, Harbonnières, France.
Just under 300 Australian Aborigines are known to have enlisted during World War I. Three were awarded Military Medals. Rawlings, one of 30 Victorian Aborigines to enlist of whom 15 were from the Western District, was one of them. His outstanding bravery was remembered with pride by the local community. When his mother died in June 1939 the Warrnambool branch of the Returned Soldiers' and Sailors' Imperial League of Australia organized the funeral honouring the mother of 'a fine soldier'.
Jan Critchett, 'Rawlings, William Reginald (1890–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rawlings-william-reginald-8161/text14263, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 1 May 2017.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988