World War I hero: Indigenous king heeded call to action

LEST WE FORGET: Jack Stacey's great-grandson, Lance Waters, and Elsie Amamoo lay a wreath at  Semakh Railway Station. Stacey took part in the Charge of Beersheba.

LEST WE FORGET: Jack Stacey's great-grandson, Lance Waters, and Elsie Amamoo lay a wreath at Semakh Railway Station. Stacey took part in the Charge of Beersheba.

HE was a Kamilaroi king who fought for his country and died in an Aboriginal mission near Moree in 1956.

Jack Stacey was one of the few Indigenous soldiers to take part in the Charge of Beersheba, an offensive that eventually led to the recapture of Jerusalem, 100 years ago.

His heroic actions during that crucial battle were rewarded with a victory medal.

But for Stacey it was a hollow victory. He was plagued throughout his life with bouts of malaria, contracted while serving in the Middle East.

Nor did Stacey receive any compensation for his brave efforts, returning to Australia in 1919 and working as a labourer to make ends meet. 

His life will be marked on Saturday, Remembrance Day, along with hundreds of other diggers from the district who served in World War I.

Moree RSL Sub-branch members will hold a service at the cenotaph at 10.45am.

Stacey’s great-grandson, Lance Waters, visited near Beersheba earlier this year, laying a wreath at Semakh Railway Station in honour of his relative.

“Even though he was not given civil rights as an Indigenous man in Australia, he was still compelled to protect the interests of Australia, because whether white Australia acknowledged it or not, it was his land and people to protect,” Mr Waters said.

Jack Stacey was born in 1897, the grandson of Charlie "King" Cubby and Lucy Ann.

He had rights within the Gamilaraay nation to being king.

But less than a year after marrying Ruby Duncan in Moree in 1916, Stacey left his land and family to enlist with the Australian Imperial Force at Narrabri.

He sailed aboard the RMS Karmala, disembarking in the Suez and joining 12th Light Horse Regiment.

After service Stacey returned home, to Moree.

The couple had two children, but the malaria attacks that led to Stacey’s discharge from the AIF in 1919 plagued him throughout his life.

In 1930 he is recorded as working as a labourer in and around Moree. He died in December, 1956. He is buried in the Aboriginal Church of England section at Moree cemetery. His wife, who lived until 1975, died at Ryde.

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GREAT ADVENTURE: Walter McNamara was awarded the Victory Medal for service to his country and empire. He was promoted through the ranks, initially as trooper and later as corporal.

GREAT ADVENTURE: Walter McNamara was awarded the Victory Medal for service to his country and empire. He was promoted through the ranks, initially as trooper and later as corporal.

ABOUT the same time Jack Stacey enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force in 1916, station hand Walter McNamara also heeded the call to action.

At the time, March 1916, McNamara was two years younger than Stacey. But both served in the Light Horse Regiment in the Middle East and both contracted malaria while in service.

Remarkably, Stacey and McNamara returned to Australia within weeks of each other, in 1919, after being discharged from the army.

One of John McNamara’s relatives, Moree military historian Michael McNamara, will honour his great uncle at the Remembrance Day service on Saturday.

Walter McNamara was born in 1896 at Pallamallawa, about 30 kilometres east of Moree.

Tall for his age (he stood at 1.8 metres) he was the second eldest of 12 children. 

He enlisted at Narrabri, joining the 1st Light Horse Regiment, 27th Reinforcements.

McNamara, along with the rest of his regiment, set sail for overseas duty from Sydney in May 1917.

It is not unlikely he may have known Jack Stacey, since McNamara also disembarked at Suez the following month.

As with Stacey, McNamara was awarded the Victory Medal for service to his country and empire; he was promoted through the ranks, initially as trooper and later as corporal. Both Moree men were hospitalised while overseas for bouts of malaria.

While in the field, McNamara and his mates were responsible for the capture of 19 Turkish officers and four German officers, along with a store of enemy supplies.

Military medals were awarded to some members of the 1st Light Horse Regiment, although it is uncertain whether McNamara was among them.

After the war, McNamara married Annie Louise Alexander, at North Sydney in 1922.

They had three sons and eventually returned to Pallamallawa, where McNamara became a station manager.

Two of their sons enlisted in World War II; a cousin was killed in the Pacific Islands when an American Submarine torpedoed the ship he was on.

Walter outlived Stacey, dying in Moree in 1969; Annie died in 1983.

Along with Stacey, they are buried at Moree Cemetery.

Michael McNamara, along with other members of Gwydir Family History Society, published a book on Moree’s Anzacs to mark the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli.

It contains a list of all known soldiers and nurses from Moree who enlisted between July 1914 and December 1915.

Members, including Kay Wilkinson and Lewis Macey,  are working on a follow-up book detailing those who served from 1916 to 1918.