Reginald Walter (Reg) SAUNDERS MBE

SAUNDERS, Reginald Walter

Service Numbers: VX12843, 337678
Enlisted: 24 April 1940
Last Rank: Captain
Last Unit: 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR)
Born: Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve, Purnim, Victoria, Australia, 7 August 1920
Home Town: Milltown, Glenelg, Victoria
Schooling: Lake Condah State School and Hamilton High School, Victoria, Australia
Occupation: Timber/Dairy worker
Died: Natural causes, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2 March 1990, aged 69 years
Cemetery: Privately Cremated
Ashes scattered on Lake Condah, Victoria, Australia.
Memorials: Portland Captain Reg Saunders Bridge, Portland Reginald Saunders Memorial Plaques
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World War 2 Service

24 Apr 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Lieutenant, 337678
24 Apr 1940: Enlisted VX12843, Caulfied, Victoria, Australia
25 Apr 1940: Involvement Lieutenant, VX12843, 2nd/7th Infantry Battalion
30 Oct 1945: Discharged Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Lieutenant, 337678

Korean War Service

6 Nov 1950: Involvement 337678
6 Nov 1950: Involvement Captain, 337678, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR)
4 Jun 1951: Involvement 337678
22 Aug 1951: Involvement 337678
5 Oct 1954: Discharged Australian Army (Post WW2), Captain, 337678

Help us honour Reginald Walter Saunders's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Peter Gaisford


“... Our veterans are extraordinary people: They're loyal, dedicated, true and brave.” (VAJEX Australia, 2015) A poem by Joanna Fuchs which clearly exhibits the true Meaning of the ‘Anzac Spirit’. It's evident that Captain Reginald Walter Saunders (figure A), more commonly known as ‘Reg’, demonstrated this.

Captain Reginald Walter ‘Reg’ Saunders, clearly represented the true meaning of ‘Anzac Spirit’. Saunders was  a well-respected soldier and leader during World War 2, he was the first Aboriginal commissioned in the Australian Army, serving in the second AIF (2/7th Battalion of the 6th Australian Division), the Battle of 42nd Street, Salamaua campaign, the Korean War and the battle of Kapyong. Saunders was named after his uncle, who was awarded a Military Medal (figure B) after serving in the 29th battalion (Australian War memorial, 2009). The son of Chris Saunders (First World War veteran) and nephew of William Reginald Rawlings, Reg Saunders was born on the 7th of August 1920, a member of the Gunditjmara people, near Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve in Western Victoria (Australian War memorial, 2009).  

His father, Christopher George Saunders (figure C), younger brother, Harry Saunder (figure D) and Mabel, née Arden which is his mother (Australian Dictionary of Biography 2020) who sadly passed in 1924 and not long after Saunders' brother Harry was sent to the Lake Condah Mission State School, by their father,  (Australian War Memorial, 2006) and briefly attended Hamilton High school Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2020). Saunders was homesick and left school nat the age of 14 to go to work as a mill hand in a timber yard and in the dairy industry (Australian War Memorial, 2006). Therefore Saunders was renowned for being a good footballer and he also played cricket and occasionally boxed. He was in business as a timber contractor with his father and brother. Saunders and his family had their ups and downs but working together brought them remarkably close. Saunder found his father to be an Inspiration as he was a man who wore his heart on his sleeve and most importantly Saunder father had respect for himself.  

Working with, Sounders listened to his father's stories about the First World War. Saunders was greatly interested and wanted to do the same. The opportunity to enlist in the Second World War presented itself in April 1940. Here, he enlisted in the second AIF (2/7th Battalion of the 6th Australian Division). Due to his pleasant character, outstanding leadership skills and sporting abilities, Saunders was recognized by his supervisors, and was soon promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. Around three months later, he was promoted to acting sergeant in his training battalion (Ibid, 2019). It was here that Saunders first witnessed fighting. He was reverted to sergeant in February 1941. During the push to Benghazi, Saunders accompanied his battalion to Greece on the 9th of April 1941, (Ibid, 2019) where constant air attack made conditions very difficult and life was unpleasant (Australian War Memorial). After the troops withdrew to Kalamata (Australian DIctionary of Biography, 2020), the battalion made their way to Crete and on this trip (Australian War Memorial, 2009) German bombs sank the ship he travelled on The Costa Rica (figure E), but Saunders survived and was transferred to board a destroyer (Australian War Memorial, 2009). On this ship hundreds of men (British, Australian and New Zealand) were killed, over a thousand wounded and thousands taken prisoners of war.  Just like Saunders, Harry, his younger brother, was in a hurry to enlist as he was nearing his 18th birthday. He joined the 2/14th battalion after convincing the recruiting office that he was of age. Saunders met up with Harry while they were camped near  War Memorial, 2009). 

With reinforcements, Saunders sailed towards the Marsa Brega in the Middle East, with the 2/7th battaPalestine, taking leave together in Jerusalem (Australian War Memorial, 2009). Unfortunately, Harry was killed in action during the Kokoda Campaign on 29th of November 1942 (Australian DIctionary of Biography, 2020). After his brothers passing Saunders was now more determined than ever to have an impact at war. He re-joined the fight and took part in the Battle of 42nd Street. Yet another unsuccessful campaign that caused the 2/7th Battalion to be left behind, while the other troops were hastily evacuated from the island of Crete. On the 7th of May, 1941 (Australian War Memorial, 2009), after 11 months of hiding out, with protection from the sympathetic Cretans, the troops were secretly taken off of the island by a submarine (Australian War memorial, 2009).

In April 1943, Saunders re-joined the 2/7th Battalion in Wau, New Guinea. The unit took part in the Salamaua campaign which continued from April to September 1943. Saunders’s skills in bushcraft were highly advanced and his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Guinn, appreciated him highly. Saunders is quoted “I preferred fighting in the jungle. You had more cover in the jungle. And, being a bush boy, I was at home in the jungle, because every time you ducked down you were undercover. In the desert, if you ducked down they’d just bounce bullets off you.” (Australian War Memorial, 2009) This signifies his considerable contributions made during his service. As a result, Saunders became a successful leader in marny of the attacks against the Japanese. The battalion relocated to North Queensland in October of 1943.(Australian War Memorial, 2009). 

In October 1943 upon returning to Australia Saunders attended Officer Training School at the Infantry Wing of the Officer Cadet Training Unit, Seymour, in Victoria (Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2020). While attending, unfortunately he spent time in the hospital due to having malaria, which then delayed his graduation. Saunders married Dorothy Mary Banfield (figure F), who was serving in the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force, on the 3rd of April, in St Matthews Church of England, Prahran Melbourne (Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2009) . In December 1944, he finally graduated as a lieutenant. Saunders received a letter of congratulations from Rev. Gordon Rowe, on behalf of the Aborigines’ Friends Association Adelaide (Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2020), which on the 18th of December 1944, he replied to  with the following letter (figure G). 

Saunders was a lieutenant in charge of No. 10 platoon, which included thirty Australians. During the expedition fighting in the Maprik area, Saunders was shot  in the knee on the 11th of may and was out of action for just 10 days. In September 1945, he returned to Australia and on the 13th of October and was transferred to be an officer of the reserve. For around four years he worked in multiple places in Melbourne, including odd jobs for a builder, a conductor and worked in an iron foundry after moving to Sydney (Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2020). Saunders was promoted to captain in charge of “C” Company of the 3rd Battalion in the Korean War in June 1950 and in 1951 took part in the famous battle of Kapyong. In this battle, the battalion was awarded a US Presidential Unit Citation. Saunders finally left Korea in October 1952 after having fought the battle for Hill 317, then resigning from the Army in 1954 (Australian War Memorial, 2009). 


Following his active service in returning home, Saunders became the captain of his local cricket team and president of a sub-branch of the RSL. Saunders moved to Canberra in 1969 and worked as the liaison officer at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, until 1981, when he retired (Australian War Memorial, 2009). Saunders received numerous acknowledgements throughout his life, including his MBE award in 1971 and his appointment to the Council of the Australian War Memorial in July 1985 (Australian War Memorial, 2009). After trying out multiple different occupations in Victoria, Saunders moved to St Marys, Sydney, along with his large family.  In 1953 Saunders' marriage had failed and he moved on to live with Patricia Montgomery. They were married from 17th of November 1979, when they later split. 

He was a selfless Son, Brother, Father, Husband and most of all a leader to his people and community. On Friday, the 2nd of March 1991, Captain Reginald Walter ‘Reg’ Saunders died at the age of 69. In Saunders honour, a scholarship was established and launched in 1992, by the RSL. His medals and his portrait are displayed in the Korean War gallery. 


BIBLIOGRAPHY: (2020). Biography - Reginald Walter (Reg) Saunders - Australian Dictionary of Biography. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 May. 2020].

Memorial, T. (2020). First Aboriginal commissioned officer – Reginald Saunders | The Australian War Memorial. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 May. 2020]. (2020). Reg Saunders: An Indigenous War Hero. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 May. 2020].

Sadler, R. and Hayllar, T. (2020). In the line of fire. 1st ed. St Martins Tower, 31 Market Street, Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd, p.ix.

Trail, T. (2020). The Battle Of The Kokoda Trail. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 May. 2020].