Douglas Grant grew up in Annandale and went to Annandale Public School. He also became one of the approximately 1000 Indigenous ANZACs to serve in World War I.
Douglas was born in 1885 in north Queensland near Yarrabah. At the age of two, he was fostered as an orphaned infant by two taxidermists on a collecting expedition. He was later adopted by one of them, Robert Grant, and lived with him, his wife and his son at 132 Albion St, Annandale.
As a child, he showed a talent for drawing and won first prize in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee exhibition in 1897. He pursued this interest after school and worked as a mechanical draughtsman for ten years. The Rockhampton Morning Bulletin described 30-year-old Douglas as “a man of high attainments, with a great love for Shakespeare and poetry generally. He is a very fine artist, and plays the bagpipes as well as any Scot.”
In January 1916, Douglas enlisted with the Australian Army to fight in WWI - but he was discharged just as his unit was about to embark for overseas service. An official had discovered a regulation stating that Aboriginal people weren’t allowed to leave the country without government permission. As time passed and 100 000 soldiers died, he was finally allowed to embark for France in August 1916, aged 30.
On April 11 1917, just two months after arriving in France, Douglas was wounded and captured during the first battle of Bullecourt. Because of his dark skin, he ended up at the German camp for Muslim prisoners at Zossen. In the prisoner-of-war camp he was an object of curiosity to the German doctors and scientist, so much so that the sculptor Rudolph Markoeser carved his bust in ebony. He organised food parcels and medical supplies for his fellow prisoners and helped them stay in contact with their families through the Red Cross.
After the war, Douglas returned to Australia. The equality he had experienced while serving ended when he returned to civilian life. As well as the many wrongs Indigenous Australians had to face in general, Indigenous soldiers missed out on the soldier settlement blocks to which other returned soldiers were entitled. Douglas didn’t cope well with the transition back to civilian life and turned to heavy drinking.
Douglas died in Sydney in 1951 aged 65 but is still remembered today - most recently in being the inspiration for the lead role in the 2013 play Black Diggers.
Douglas was one of the approximately 1200 Annandale men who served in World War I.
Information taken from
The AIF Project (https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=116616)
Australian War Memorial (https://www.awm.gov.au/education/schools/resources/private-douglas-grant/)
Leichhardt 5000 (http://www.leichhardt5000.com.au/vc-william-currey/douglas-grant/)
Trove Digitised Newspapers (http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/53385897)