The 23rd Queensland Regiment was formed by Australia’s most decorated soldier – Henry William “Harry” Murray VC, CMG, DSO & Bar, DCM.
They were a Volunteer Defence Corp that covered the Lower and North West Gulf, from Nappranum down to Burketown / Doomadgee. The unit became known as “Murray’s Cowboys”
These types of units often recruited local community members due to their strong affinity and knowledge of country. They were the ideal coast watchers, able to survive off the land, had excellent observation skills and remained unseen.
These men were a Surveillance Group probably on horse back, that were chosen for their physical and mental strengths that were known for their extensive knowledge of the Gulf Coast and it’s Waterways.
The 23rd Queensland Regiment VDC were not to engage in war, but to monitor the coast and waterways during World War II for any enemy vessels attempting to make landfall or entering the waterways and hamper their communications and efforts to advance to more populated areas.
Japanese fishing vessels were familiar with the Gulf and were often manned by Japanese Naval Personnel.
On the 6th June 1943, after serving in the RAAF at Darwin and Daly Waters, Lew Blackmore enlisted at Burketown with the 23rd Queensland Regiment Volunteer Defense Corps of the Australian Army and was discharged on the 21st October 1945. (Service Number Q230544).
Lew had been discharged from the RAAF on the 25th February 1943 under AFR 115(t) to “take up civilian employment” at Gregory Downs, Burketown.
Maurice and Arthur Aplin
Long term Gregory Downs employee, Maurice Aplin and his brother Arthur were also members of the 23rd Queensland Regiment from 1942 to 1945.
In November 2017, Major Jeremy Barraclough of the 51st Battalion, Far North Qld Regiment, took a trip to Doomadgee to present the Aplin family of Waanyi with a service medal for their late father and uncle.
Nine of Maurice Aplin’s 11 children were there to accept his award.
Australian Service Medals were presented to to Inez Diamond, eldest daughter of Q230543 Private Maurice Aplin and David Douglas, son of Q230305 Private Arthur Aplin.
More than 100 attended the event including family, local station owners, service providers, members of the 51st Battalion Normanton, Mount Isa RSL, QLD Police Service and Doomadgee Council.
Stephen Carrington, originally from “Planet Downs” was also there representing the Mt Isa Sub Branch of the RSL.
The medals came about as a result of some investigative efforts by Queensland Ambulance Service Officer in Charge for Doomadgee, Mandy Barr.
“A lady asked me to look into her father, Maurice Aplin’s, Army Service. During my research we came across his brother, Arthur Aplin who also belonged to the same Regiment between 1942 – 1945,” Officer Barr said.
Mandy applied for both men’s service records to be digitised, then made an application for a Medal Assessment, which revealed they were both entitled to an ‘Australian Service Medal’.
This award is important to the community, as both Waanyi men survived by their families in Doomadgee now have a personal connection to Anzac Day.
Doomadgee Shire Council have committed to re vamping the Doomadgee Cenotaph where there will be a plaque mounted in honour of these men.
Gregory Downs Management, WW2
It was intended that Lew Blackmore “take over the running” of Gregory Downs after the death of the last of the three Watson Brothers, Greg Watson, in 1943, as the property was to pass to him, however, it would not be that simple.
The Estate was tied up for quite some time as Harry Frederick Watson had died in 1942 and his share had yet to pass to the Estate of R M ‘Greg’ Watson before it could be wound up and titled passed to on to Lew Blackmore. Lew eventually took over ownership of the property from the executors, the Burns Philp Trust Company in January 1948, some 5 years later!
Phil Schaffert, had managed Gregory Downs for the Watson Bros since 1931 and after Greg Watson’s death, continued in that role for the Trust Company until December 1944 when he reluctantly resigned due to the Trust Company’s very stringent reluctance to spend any funds on maintenance. Phil’s brother Charlie then took over the management of Gregory Downs and continued in that role for around 14 years.