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Private John Albert Fisher was an Aboriginal soldier born in Launceston in 1890. He was the son of John and Margaret Fisher (nee Summers), of Cape Barren Island or Truwana in the Aboriginal palawa kani language.
John first applied to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 16 June 1916 at Whitemark on Flinders Island. He was aged 26 years and eight months.
John was one of 48 men from the Furneaux Islands to enlist. Flinders and Cape Barren Islands provided the highest number of early Aboriginal soldiers who served in Word War One (WW1).
One of the other men from Cape Barren Island to enrol, was John's younger brother George Godfrey Fisher, who enlisted in June 1916. George was assigned to the 4th Machine Gun Company. He returned to Australia in early 1918, discharged from the AIF as result of debility.
A special note written on John's application states:
"John Albert Fisher has service thirteen years at sea and has been six years in naval reserve. Both certificates V.G….."
V.G. refers to the grade of 'very good' and the certificates refer to John's Bridge Watching Certificate (required for Officer of the Watch duties on the bridge at sea), and his Harbour Watchkeeping Certificate (required for Officer of the Day duties when the ship is in port alongside).
John was "… Specially recommended for Naval Bridging Train".
The little known Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train (RANBT) was the most highly decorated Royal Australian Navy (RAN) unit during WW1. No less than 20 awards for bravery or good service were presented to this unit for service at Gallipoli and in the Sinai during 1915-1917.
John joined the AIF on 21 September 1916 at Claremont in Tasmania. However, despite the recommendation, he was not assigned to the Naval Bridging Train. John was assigned number 2328 and became a member of the all-Tasmanian 40th Battalion.
John was described as 27 years old, 5 feet 4¾ inches tall, with a dark complexion and blue eyes. His distinguishing marks included a tattoo of a mermaid on his right forearm and an American flag and Union Jack tattoo on his left forearm. He listed his profession as a seaman.
As part of the 40th Battalion 4th reinforcements, John embarked at Melbourne on His Majesty's Australian Transports (HMAT) Port Melbourne A16 on 21 October 1916 and disembarked at Devonport, England on 28 December 1916. John then marched into the 10th Training Battalion in Durrington, England. Reinforcements were only given basic training in Australia; further training was completed in training units in England, located in the Salisbury Plains area.
On 8 September 1917, Private John Fisher proceeded overseas to France from 12 Camp Durrington, via South Hampton. Arriving in Havre, France on 9 September 1917, he marched out to the Unit, and was "taken on Strength from Reinforcements" by the 40th Battalion in the Field on 20 September 1917 from the 3rd Australian Division Base Depot in Rouelles, France.
From 1-25 September 1917, the 40th Battalion was training to meet the new type of German warfare, holding a defensive line in depth. By the end of September, the 40th Battalion had travelled to the Rest Camp at Morbecque, France for rest and reorganisation for the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge between 4-5 October 1917.
Private Fisher was wounded in action on 12 October 1917. On this day the 40th Battalion, was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to seize the Passchendaele Ridge from the defending Germans, as part of the continuing Third Battle of Ypres. Vicious fighting took place in the most appalling of waterlogged conditions. The 3rd Australian Division's attempts to struggle forward to their objective with little artillery protection represented the last major Australian participation in the Third Battle of Ypres. The following day Private Fisher died of his wounds on 13 October 1917 in Belgium. On 15 October 1917, Private Fisher was buried at Front House in France.
Private Fisher's belongings were returned to Australia on the Gilgai in 1918 and included a wallet, photos, letters, a razor, a silver wristwatch and strap, a certificate and unit colours. The items were forwarded to his father on Cape Barren Island. Later in 1920, John's father was sent his son's identity disc. On the receipt for consignment from the Defence Department, he wrote 'Many many thanks sir'.
On 20 December 1919, Private Fisher's father was advised that his son's remains had been exhumed and re-interred in the Potijze Chateau Ground Cemetery, 1 mile North East of Ypres.
Private Fisher was researched by Natalie Cooling, Department of Premier and Cabinet, for the Frank MacDonald Memorial Study Tour 2014.
Open the research about Private Fisher and view his war service records. (PDF, 3.77MB)