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23 June 2011

1822 Private William Clarence Way Ahang of Tumby Bay

Will Ahang was a son of Henry Ahang and Emma Ahang (nee Argoon) and was born at Sheringa near Port Lincoln on 12 January 1887[1]. Sheringa is a corruption of the Aboriginal word tjeiringa, a type of yam plant which flourished near local lagoons[2]. Will's father Henry was a son of John Ahang and 'Topsy' an Aboriginal woman who was probably a Nawo/Nawu woman. John Ahang emigrated from Canton, China to Australia in the 1850's, and was working on Lake Hamilton station as a shepherd and boundary rider in the 1860's when he met and married 'Topsy'[3]. John Ahang was naturalised in 1878[4], and was a successful farmer and landowner, selecting nearly 300 acres of land in the Hundred of Way near Port Lincoln in the early 1880's[5]. Will's mother Emma was described as 'a well-educated and ladylike girl' of Malay/Celtic heritage according to contemporary newspapers[6].

According to research by Tumby Bay historian Geoff Stewart, Will's father Henry was a farm labourer[7]. Will was one of six children, two boys and four girls. Will only had a basic education and, like his father, worked as a farm labourer in the Sheringa and Tumby Bay districts up until he enlisted[8].

In early 1916, Will left Tumby Bay with other local lads with the goal of enlisting. He enlisted on 23 February 1916 and embarked at Adelaide on the Aeneas on 11 April 1916 at the age of 28. He sailed with the 2nd reinforcements to the 5th Pioneer Battalion, and disembarked at Suez on 15 May 1916. A month later he re-embarked at Alexandria for the voyage to France. After a short stint in hospital with illness, he joined the 5th Pioneer Battalion in the field on 13 October 1916. Other than a couple of stints in hospital with illness, Will served with the 5th Pioneers until the final stages of the War.

On the morning of 29 September 1918, the 5th Division was attacking the fortified Hindenburg Line. Due to the thick mist, the 5th Pioneers, tasked with building roads for horse transport behind the advancing American troops attached to the Division, somehow got ahead of the leading infantry and suffered quite heavy casualties. Six members of the 5th Pioneers were killed and many were wounded. Will was severely wounded, suffering gunshot wounds to his right arm, back, left side and neck. He was evacuated to England and admitted to hospital in Edgbaston on 6 October 1918. During his convalescence, he met and married Christine Rosetta Mortlock at St. Matthias Church, Earls Court, London on 9 December 1918, although he remained in hospital until early March 1919. Christina and Will embarked on the Indarra on 12 July 1919, and after arrival back in Australia was discharged in Adelaide on 27 October 1919.

After the War, Will took Christine back to Tumby Bay, and after staying for a short time with his aunt Margaret Ahang, Will and Christine took up a soldier/settler block at Carrow, near Port Neill[9]. It is believed that Will was amongst the first Aboriginal returned soldiers to take up a soldier/settler block in South Australia.

Christina gave birth to two sons, Melvin born in 1920, and Ian in 1922. Early on in their time at Carrow, Christine, obviously more accustomed to London than a remote settlement in Australia, apparently spent a whole day scrubbing the floor of their farmhouse trying to find the linoleum through the dirt, only to have Will come home from the fields in the evening to tell her the house had a dirt floor[10].

Will suffered badly as a result of his severe wounds, resulting in his death at the age of 40 on 23 March 1928. He was buried in the Tumby Bay cemetery. Christine and the two young lads moved to Alberton in Adelaide after Will's death[11].

Will's son Ian served with the 34th Works Company during the Second World War. Four of Will's nephews also served in that war, William Norman John James and Herbert Henry James, and John Henry Clarence Lathlean and Roy Albert Lathlean, all great-grandson's of Topsy Ahang.

Christine was hit by a drunk driver on Christmas Day 1980[12] and died three days later at the age of 83. She was cremated and has a memorial at the Enfield Memorial Park, Clearview.

Will Ahang's name is not believed to be listed on any war memorial or honour board in South Australia, but will now be included on the Register of Aboriginal Veterans of South Australia.

Photograph: Courtesy of the Tumby Bay RSL Sub-Branch via Geoff Stewart

[1] South Australian Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages
[2] The Manning Index of South Australian History - Place Names
[3] South Australian Register, 9 January 1897, page 5
[4] South Australian Gazette 18 April 1878
[5] South Australian Land Selections 1869-90
[6] South Australian Register, 9 January 1897, page 5
[7] Personal communication with author - 22 June 2011
[8] Geoff Stewart, 'A Soldier's Story', Tumby Bay Community News, January 2011, p.4
[9] Geoff Stewart, 'A Soldier's Story', Tumby Bay Community News, January 2011, p.4
[10] Geoff Stewart, 'A Soldier's Story', Tumby Bay Community News, January 2011, p.4
[11] Geoff Stewart, 'A Soldier's Story', Tumby Bay Community News, January 2011, p.4
[12] Geoff Stewart, 'A Soldier's Story', Tumby Bay Community News, January 2011, p.4

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ian Thank you for creating this blog I to have been resaerching my ancestors as 1822 Private William Clarence Way Ahang is my great great grandfather and I knew he served in the first world war to find no mention of him so I searched the aboriginals registars and found his name. I came across your blog as I was searching Topsy (Maggie) Ahang when your blog came up. Thank you. My email is if you wish to contact.
    Deborah Annette of MANNINGHAM South Australia