Neither Black nor White ….. but ‘Khaki’ – Private Frank Richard ARCHIBALD of the 2/2nd Battalion AIF on the Kokoda Trail and Sanananda

Private Frank Richard ARCHIBALD was born at Walcha, New South Wales on February 17th, 1915 to Frank and Sarah Archibald.  One of 12 children; he would find himself fighting alongside his fellow Australians in many faraway places.  However, law of the time said  that he was not a citizen of Australia.  To the broader population back home, he was a black man in a white man’s army.  But to his mates on the front, he was neither black – nor white ….. he was ‘khaki’ like the rest of them.  And Frank, like many other indigenous Australians would prove his worth on the battlefield and shed his life’s blood in service of his country.

The Archibald family today are well known in the Armidale area. They are direct descendants of Robert King, or King Bobby, a renowned Aboriginal leader at the time of colonisation.

IMAGE RIGHT: NX15456 Private Frank Richard ARCHIBALD of the 2/2nd Infantry Battalion, AIF.

Frank Richard Archibald lived in the Armidale-Walcha area until 1935 when the family moved to Burnt Bridge Mission, near Kempsey. The family moved to the Mission after welfare authorities threatened to remove their children. The government authorities promised that, if the family moved to the Mission, their children would not be taken.

Private Frank’s military service began during May of 1940 when he enlisted into the AIF at Kempsey at the age of 25.   He was assigned to the 2/2nd Infantry Battalion which was part of the 16th Brigade.  Frank’s younger brother, Ronald Archibald, and his uncle, Richard Archibald (Senior) signed up in Kempsey around the same time.

After training at Greta, Frank sailed from Sydney in August 1940.

IMAGE LEFT: Colour Patch of the 2/2nd Infantry Battalion, AIF (Australian Imperial Force).  Bearing the colours of ‘purple over green’, note the grey border which denotes the second AIF.  The original 2nd Infantry Battalion of the First World War had the same colour patch but minus the grey border.

He arrived in Palestine in September, and after more training, he served in the Battle of Bardia then followed action in the battles of Tobruk, Benghazi and on to Greece and Crete.

In the evacuation of Greece, Frank was in a group of twelve cut off by the German army, but they made their way to the coast where they got a fishing boat which took them to Crete. On the day that they were evacuated from Crete, the enemy sent over 60 bombers and heavily bombed the village in which they had taken refuge.

In March 1942, the 2/2nd Battalion was to leave Palestine and arrive in Ceylon (current day Sri Lanka) on the 27th of March, 1942.  It was the desire of Winston Churchill that the Australians of the 16th & 17th Brigades, bolster the British defences in the zone which included Burma and India.  However, Prime Minister Curtain and the Australian Government finally ordered these troops back home to defend Australia. This was a disappointment of the British Government, however the Japanese had landed at Gona on the northern coast of New Guinea and had already pushed south to the village of Kokoda. They sailed from Ceylon aboard the SS City of Canterbury in July, arriving home on the 4th of August, 1942.

A few weeks later Private Frank was welcomed home by his community at a public function.

IMAGE RIGHT: The remains of an Australian weapons pit dug in on the forward slope of Imita Ridge.  From this position, there would be no retreat for the Australian forces.  This image gives a good indication of the jungle conditions ….. a far cry from the country around Walcha.

After short leave, Frank left Brisbane for Port Moresby.  Arriving on the 21st of September, 1942 they were to remain at Moresby on local defence duty for the next ten days.  The major battles of Isurava and Brigade Hill had already been fought and the Australian troops had pulled back to Imita Ridge where they dug in.  The fresh troops of the 25th Brigade (2/25th Battalion, 2/31st & 2/33rd) supported by the 3rd Infantry Battalion AMF (commonly referred to as ‘militia’) had been told that there would be no retreat from this position.  They were to stand and fight ….. or die trying.

At this time, the Kokoda Track started from McDonald’s Corner just outside Port Moresby.  It ran approximately 96 km across New Guinea, through the Owen Stanley Ranges to Kokoda.  From there, the trail continued beyond to the coastal lowlands on the north coast.

The track crosses some of the most rugged and isolated country in the world. The altitude reaching 2,250 metres at Mount Bellamy.  The climate combines hot humid days with intensely cold nights, torrential rainfall and endemic tropical diseases such as malaria.  It is passable only on foot.

IMAGE LEFT: The Kokoda Trail, between Alola and Isurava when heading north.  This is the type of rugged and mountainous country which faced Frank and his comrades during the advance to Kokoda village.

As the Kokoda campaign developed – this had sever repercussions for army logistics, the size of the forces that could be deployed and the type of warfare that could be fought.

There were many days where our Australian infantry were moving forward and fighting the enemy but they did not really have enough food, water and ammunition as it was so difficult for the army to deliver these things along the narrow, muddy foot track.

We know from the many letters that Private Frank Archibald sent home to his mother Sarah; that just surviving on the track was a struggle, let alone doing battle with the well- equipped Japanese troops.  There are accounts in Frank’s letters about how he used his bush skills- for example – to help his fellow soldiers collect water for drinking.

IMAGE RIGHT: A photograph of Australian troops pushing through the mosquito infested swamps of Sanananda.  It was in this living hell that Private Frank Archibald fought and was killed, whilst attempting to save the life of another.  Whilst this photo is actually of men of the 7th Division Cavalry Regiment, it is the same conditions faced by the 2/2nd Battalion.

On the 24th of November 1942 with the beaches of  the northern coastline of New Guinea  only 4 or 5 kilometres away, 1942 Frank was killed in action.  He was 27 years old.  Fighting in the fetid swampland around Sanananda,  he was shot by the enemy while trying to save his non-Aboriginal friend, who survived the action.

Frank’s younger brother, Ronald, also fought on the Kokoda trail. Ronald became ill with malaria and was medically evacuated, we think this happened a few days after Frank was killed.

IMAGE LEFT: Bomana War Cemetery, Papua New Guinea where Frank Archibald lies buried.

Both Frank and his brother Ronald were regular correspondents, sending many letters home to their mother, Sarah.  Sarah kept all the letters from her sons, and this collection is now held with pride by Aunty Grace Archibald. The letters give sobering insights into the experiences of the two young men as they fought in foreign lands.

A letter written to Frank’s mother Sarah shortly after his death by a senior sergeant Ron Diamond states that “I can honestly say Frank was one of the most popular boys in the battalion and his cheery disposition and ready smile, even in the darkest hours, made him an inspiration to us all”. This showed the high regards held for her son by his fellow-soldiers.

Today Private Frank Richard Archibald lies beside his 600 fellow fallen Anzac’s at the Bomana War Cemetery near Port Moresby, New Guinea.

He is buried with full military honours.

However his spirit will not be truly brought to rest until he has received a proper, Aboriginal, culturally appropriate ceremony.

IMAGE LEFT: An image of the war service medals awarded to Private Frank Richard ARCHIBALD, 2/2nd Infantry Battalion, AIF.  From left to right:- 1939-1945 Star, Africa Star, Pacific Star, Defence Medal, 1939-1945 Australia Service Medal and the 1939-1945 War Medal.

IMAGE RIGHT: Aunty Grace Gordon (Archibald) and Uncle Richard Archibald with Frank’s war service medals and Company photograph.


IMAGE LEFT: Front page of the Illawarra Mercury, showing the first media article that detailed Franks army service.

PLEASE NOTE:  The Kokoda Aboriginal Serviceman’s Campaign Committee is seeking to raise funds, in order for members of his family to attend his graveside and carry out the appropriate Aboriginal cultural ceremonies that are needed to enable Frank’s spirit to be brought respectfully to rest.  It also hopes to raise community awareness of all Australians as to sacrifice by indiginous servicemen and women during defence of Australia.  For more information, please contact Brendan Fitzgerald on telephone 0431 014 818 or email

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About gary

Gary Traynor is the volunteer Administrator of the Militaria based website MEDALSGONEMISSING. The aim of this "NOT FOR PROFIT" website is to reunite families, with lost War Medals and other items of militaria. Anything from medals to items of uniform. What Gary refers to as their "lost heritage". He has been actively involved in the Militaria world and researching of Military History for well over 30 years. As a result, Gary also conducts valuations and offers advice on all items of militaria. He has acted as advisor to a number of television and Foxtel productions; including Sir Tony Robinson's "Tour of Duty" series which featured on the History Channel. Gary is a field historian and conducts tours to Gallipoli, The Western Front, Kokoda and many other major battle sites around the world. He was a member of the Australian Army Reserve (UNSWR & 4/3 RNSWR) and served for 23 years with the New South Wales Police Force. He is perhaps the only person who has been employed at the Australian War Memorial in all three capacities .... as a volunteer, part time and full time employee .... starting as a qualified tour guide, working in the public galleries as an Information Assistant and finally Assistant Curator in Military Heraldry & Technology. Medalsgonemissing is a website that will assist you in locating your family's lost war medals and other awards. If you have an ancestor who served in any of the British Commonwealth Armed Services at any time - and whose medals are lost/stolen or simply missing....then so long as the medals are out there - this site will help you to locate them. However the site also contains articles of interest in relation to Military History, War Memorials & Uniforms / kit. Please explore our website as there is sure to be something of interest to you.
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6 Responses to Neither Black nor White ….. but ‘Khaki’ – Private Frank Richard ARCHIBALD of the 2/2nd Battalion AIF on the Kokoda Trail and Sanananda

  1. tom Goode says:

    great info I’ve walked the track a coupla times and am an avid/ passionate person regarding our indnigenous service men. mougals was in our Battalion in VietNam,a great bloke and was just another digger/mate and the bond supasses any colouur race or creed.fantastic article thank you ….Tom

  2. Anthony Staunton says:

    Great story of a brave Australian. None of the 40,000 Australians who gave their lives in the Second World War were Australian citizens. Indigenous were included in the Australian Citizenship Act that was proclaimed in 1949 not from 1967 which is in popular memory. The 1967 referendum deleted the provision in the Australian Constitution that prevented the Australian Government directly supporting Indigenous citizens.

  3. Greg McMahon says:

    My father Paul McMahon, NX1765, was wounded in action 4 days before Frank was killed. Dad had the greatest respect for Frank. I had not heard his name for at least 20 years and it brought back many memories. Vale Frank, a true Aboriginal hero.

  4. Caroline says:

    Anthony, one thing that frustrates me is that Aboriginal people were not included in the census for many years, even past 1949 in my experience. Some had them listed separately but the ones I have looked at recently just included people excluding Aboriginal people. I know the family mentioned and I am sure this ceremony has meant a lot to the family and the wider Aboriginal community in Armidale.

  5. Denise Lalor says:

    I have been trying to trace my own Koori father’s war history so that I can pass it on to my brothers who were only 18 when he died as a result of a car accident.
    Dad must be related to the Archibald family given that his name was Ronald Lalor, from Armidale, Kentucky Creek of clan and my Grandmother Alice lived and worked in the Walcha area too. My family, like most Koori families, named out kids after family members, so I’m guessing that dad’s name Ronald and my younger brother Richard are all bound in some way to my paternal grandmother’s maiden name, Davidson.

    I was trying to find out about my father being in the occupation forces in Japan and to my horror have just discovered that the Australian government has refused to recognise all our nation’s servicemen that were sent into Hiroshima of all places! Now can you imagine just how much compensation successive governments would have had to have paid out to all the soldiers that might have suffered radiation poisoning after working in that place of atomic destruction? How many other Kooris were sent to Hiroshima? My father was Ronald Lalor, he was Kokoda in 1942 with the 2/31st, had malaria, recovered, and then arrived in Borneo, 2/7/45.
    We have lost most of his war history because there was a family feud that caused all the letters that he sent home to his mother during his war service to be appropriated by his sister when my nan died while dad was serving his country were his citizenship was not recognised until 1967.
    Dad’s army photos and all his war experiences have been denied his own offspring because his sister rejected my mother.

    Mum’s maiden name was Delaney but her father was George Leslie, Nan was a Cain before she married her husband who abandoned her while she was fighting for her life in hospital. Mum’s parents are from Coonabarabran. Mum’s mother’s name was Eliza Dad’s mother was Alice Lalor nee Davidson from the Kentucky Creek area of Armidale prior to her marriage.

    Is there anyone out there that can give me any information about the missing pieces of Dad’s war service in Borneo and how I might be connected to the Archibald family who were fighting in the same areas as my father?
    Grandmother Alice lived in Caroline Street in the Redfern/Chippendale area.

    Also, Dad and mum moved into a War Service Home in Mt Druitt in 1959 but they lost it in 1965 because got dad got malaria again within two months of mum having my baby twin brothers in 1964.

    Does anyone else know other Kooris that purchased War Service Homes around NSW.

    Dad became ‘regular army’ when he came back from Japan and was stationed at Randwick transport section.
    How many other Koori soldiers did that too?

    Dad was in Borneo, was in Japan, and became a regular soldier and lived in a War Service Home until ill health cost our family the home that Dad “was able to buy” after surviving all of that!
    A car accident took him out of our lives with so much unfinished family business that has been denied my younger brothers.

    They will be 50 in 2014 and I am now the oldest member of the family so it’s up to me to find as much as I can about my family’s history but since I am 61, I am mindful of the urgency of my task.
    Can anyone fill me in on anything about the things I have mentioned thus far?
    What link-ups are out there to put me in touch with other family researchers? I now live in another state to my family of origin and all my old people with the knowledge I needed are dead.
    Mum died of cancer not long after dad; my sister died of cancer ten years after mum but she was not interested in family history so she knew far less than I did.
    Today is the first day that I have put all of this family knowledge in writing so any responses would be very much appreciated.
    Regards, Denise Lalor, Victoria (previously from the Chippendale/Mt Druitt areas of NSW).

  6. gary says:

    Hello there Denise. Thank you very much for visiting our site and I would be very pleased to be able to help you in any way. Do you have skype? I am sure that I can help you to piece all of these missing threads of information together. Our service is totally free of any charge, so rest assured that there are no hidden costs for our help. Please email directly at:- Kind regards. Gary Traynor

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