A MINUTE OF SILENCE
MR FLICK’S CHURCHILL FELLOWSHIP
Dubbo-based Joseph Flick is a 2019 recipient of the coveted Churchill Fellowship Award. With its assistance, he will soon embark on a project to research and document the burial sites of Indigenous soldiers who died during World War I in the UK, France and Belgium.
It’s been a year since his application was submitted and six weeks since he learned the good news about his Fellowship. He attended an official ceremony in Sydney last Friday with his daughter where his award was officiated by Governor of NSW Margaret Beazley.
This project really began six years ago when Mr Flick set out to learn the story of just one Indigenous soldier who fought in France – his grandfather.
Now, the Churchill Fellowship will afford him an opportunity to do the same for over 800 families.
It’s a story of reconnection and closure for descendants who, just like him, have family trees scarred by lives interrupted due to World War I, and for whom Remembrance Day does not always come around without tones of bitterness.
WALKING in the footsteps of an ancestor who fought or fell in France and Belgium in WWI is a pilgrimage shared by hundreds of Australians.
Dubbo man Joe Flick first did this in 2013, visiting Villers-bretonneux, a French town liberated by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) soldiers who stopped German forces advancing on April 24, 1918.
Joe’s grandfather, Michael, was one of those Diggers who endured and survived the horrors of the trench warfare – and fought the Germans at Villers-bretonneux on that day.
“While he was in the trenches with his mates, they were just mates. They fought and died together. It was totally different when they came home,” Mr Flick said.
There were no thanks for his service, or the sacrifice made.
“My Pop’s kids weren’t allowed to go to school because they were Aboriginal, he couldn’t drink in the pub or go to the RSL Club for a drink in the bar, like other returned servicemen, because he was Aboriginal.”
In Villers-bretonneux, there was little information about Aboriginal soldiers and also none of the prejudice.
“I asked (the Australian French Museum in Villers-bretonneux) if I could help put together some information and they agreed,” he said.
He has returned four times to France since, but a visit next year will last eight weeks in his role as a 2019 Churchill Fellowship Award recipient.
Bound for the United Kingdom, France and Belgium, Mr Flick will research and document the burial sites of Indigenous soldiers who died there during WWI.
“I was having a conversation one day with the Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson about the photograph I’d taken of a headstone belonging to Thomas Dodd from Walgett.
“His family were just so happy to see it and I suggested to Mr Nelson we should take a photo for every Indigenous family who has a lost soldier and he thought it was a good idea.
“The aim of my project is to document and research the names of Aboriginal soldiers who fought in WWI. There were about 807 who went overseas. There were nearly 1200 Aboriginal men enlisted.
“It’s not a story that is well known, a lot of them came home, but they had a bigger fight when they got here,” he said.
Mr Flick hopes his research will find recognition for all, but especially Aboriginal soldiers from around Trangie, Walgett, Coonabarabran and off the missions, like his “Pop”.
“They went over there to fight for freedom and were never properly recognised or acknowledged,” he said.
“It will help families start to find closure. By documenting their history, taking their enlistment papers and a photo of their headstone. It will bring them back to Country. It’s about bringing their spirits home.
“It’s going to be a journey that will certainly have its tears and sadness, but also the happiness and joy of linking these fellas back with their mob, telling them that people love them.
“It’s the same for anyone burying a loved one, if you’ve never visited their grave or don’t know where they’re buried, there’s no closure. I’m trying to make that link and connection to family and Country,” he said.
After the official award ceremony this week with the NSW Governor Margaret Beazley, Mr Flick will enjoy dinner at Parliament House hosted by the Churchill Fellowship Association.
“Then we do a training day where we find out about the ins and outs and learn our obligations to the fellowship. There’s 25 people from NSW and 115 in total from across Australia,” Mr Flick said.
Monday, November 11, is Remembrance Day, which commemorates the signing of the Armistice which occurred on November 11, 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
On the first anniversary of the armistice in 1919, one minute’s silence was instituted as part of the main commemorative ceremony.
The war service of Aboriginal soldiers was ignored and forgotten for decades after the war.
Churchill Fellowship Award recipient Joe Flick with NSW Governor The Honourable Margaret Beazley during the official award ceremony at Governor House Sydney last Friday. PHOTO: SUPPLIED