John Kinsela is a Wiradjuri man and this interview is part of the ‘Honouring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Service Men and Women’ project. In this interview John talks about conscription, physical training, active service in Vietnam, and his alternative career as an Olympic athlete. In the excerpt below he recalls his uncle, Captain Reginald Saunders MBE, the first Indigenous Australian to be commissioned as an officer in the Australian Army.
He fought in World War II. People from Crete, they had a special ceremony; I think every year they commemorate the Australian forces. See, the Australian forces in Crete, they went in there to fight the Germans. Unfortunately, the Germans were too strong, and Uncle Reg – because he was black he couldn’t blend in with the locals – they [the Germans] were after him, and the people from Crete took him in. They taught him a little bit of Greek. And then from there Uncle Reg, he was in the Middle East. When the Japs were in New Guinea he came down to fight the Japanese; fighting the Germans in Crete and then in Africa, and then coming back to fight the Japanese. After World War II I think he got out of the army and then when trouble started with the Koreans he joined back up and they made him a second lieutenant. So Uncle Reg, because of his leadership, he won captaincy in the field. I go out to the Vietnam Veterans’ Outpost. It’s in the same grounds as the St Marys RSL [Returned Servicemen’s League] and one time me and my mate went over there for lunch, and there’s a big picture of Uncle Reg. At one stage he was president of the St Marys RSL.