Aboriginal WW1 soldier William Punch, a survivor

William Joseph Punch.

William Joseph Punch.

John Siggs was the eighth child of Richard and Mary Siggs , as a young man he rode with  the cattle on agistment from Pejar, Woodhouselee and Roslyn areas to land surrounding Lake Cowal where relatives of the Siggs, the Regan family had land holdings.

A story had been circulated that John Siggs had brought back with him a baby from North Queensland.  

However this story had been disputed by an elderly female member of the household.

The story was that in 1880 John Siggs, with other people from Roslyn and Woodhouselee had taken cattle to the Bland River, one of the beasts had been speared by some Aboriginals and roasted and eaten.  

In retaliation a raid was conducted during the night and a massacre had taken place.

A young John Siggs had slept through the night and was not aware of what had happened, the next morning he rode over to see the results and had discovered amongst the dead bodies a small baby who was trying to suckle from his dead mother’s breast.   

According to the elderly lady his words were: “Oh this is bloody murder; I will have no part of this”.   

According to the old lady, he then picked up the baby and rode home to Pejar.  

The story of the baby coming from Queensland would have been to cover up the baby’s birthplace so he would not wish to seek out his relatives as it was presumed they no longer existed.

William Joseph Punch had been brought up with the nephews and nieces of John Siggs and had been taught by a Governess at old Pejar House.

He had ridden with the Sigg’s family to Crookwell for music lessons and was a very well educated man who also excelled in sport and had taken part in local sport committees.

Articles in the Goulburn Evening Penny Post on Woodhouselee up until 1915 had recounted stories of WJ Punch’s involvement in local activities.

Private Punch and other Goulburn recruits before leaving for Sydney 1916

Private Punch and other Goulburn recruits before leaving for Sydney 1916

In 1915, a campaign for recruits to join the Services to fight in the Great War inspired William to register, and so on December 31, 1915 he enlisted in the Army.  He gave his next of kin as Oswald Gallagher, a member of the Siggs family.

William’s service number was 5435; he was camped at Goulburn Showground and was one of the 300 soldiers to attend an early Mass and breakfast on  February 27, 1916, prior to going to Sydney for training.

William was referred to as the mascot of the unit; he was very popular with the troops.  They had been shipped out to Egypt and William and some other soldiers had fallen ill with the mumps and had been left behind in Egypt.  Later he joined the 1st Battalion.

He had written a letter to the Siggs Gallagher family on September 3, 1916 and said that he had been in England for nine days and that he was going to France.  

He also spoke of gas drill and that he had made friends with a “Bosker Bloke” from Clear Hills, Roslyn, NSW. He mentioned that they would be in the front line in Belgium.

It was on September, 7, 1916 that William was first wounded in Belgium; he recovered and returned to France. He was then wounded for the second time on April 5, 1917, and was sent back to England where he was nursed in Mont Dore hospital Bournemouth.

Sadly, William Joseph Punch died of pneumonia on August 27, 1917 and he is buried in the Bournemouth East Cemetery, Boscombe, England.

He was recorded as having been aged 37 years and a native of Queensland. Sister O’Shea, an Australian nurse serving at the hospital, wrote to the Reveille on August 31, 1931, about William Joseph Punch and supplied a photograph of him in his hospital bed.

This little Aboriginal baby boy, who had survived the massacre on the Bland River in 1880 and the war to lose his life to pneumonia.