Prisoner of war Private Hawkins: 'a hero in our eyes'

"IT felt like a nulla nulla."

On February 14, 1917, Private Reginald Hawkins was hit in the face by a German soldier before being dragged off to a prisoner of war camp.

The young indigenous man from the tiny Queensland town of Jericho, who described being hit in the face like receiving a blow from an Aboriginal hunting stick, spent two years labouring on farms across Germany under the guard of his captors.

One of 500 Australian Aboriginal men to enlist in the First World War, Private Hawkins' bravery and strength continues to amaze those who hear his story.

This week his war service was honoured, alongside that of other First World War soldiers, when his name was assigned to a carriage on the historic troop train travelling through central Queensland.

On Tuesday, his granddaughter, Joanne Connop, and his daughter-in-law, Rose Hawkins, took pride of place at a commemorative wreath-laying ceremony for the soldier in Alpha, about 170km from Emerald.

Private Hawkins left his job as a station hand to become a member of the 42nd Battalion in October 1915. He was 23.

Eight months later he set sail for Armentieres in France where, as the rest of the world celebrated Christmas, he tasted battle for the first time.

Less than eight weeks later he was wounded in the hip, eye and ear and was interned in a POW camp.

He repatriated to England in January 1919.

The father of two returned to Australia four months later.

Mrs Hawkins, of Yeppoon, and Mrs Connop, of the Northern Territory, were overwhelmed by the honour given to their "handsome hero".

Mrs Hawkins said he was a good-looking gentle bloke who never talked about his experience.

"We know very little about his war services," she said.

"We know he was injured and had to work on farms near the POW camps.

"In our eyes he was a hero."

Private Hawkins never held his granddaughter Joanne.

Mrs Connop was born three months after he died, in 1969.

Not knowing her grandfather has not dimmed her pride.

"It's a real privilege to ride in the carriage that was named after him," she said.

"He was a lovely man, a real gentleman and very handsome."

Topics:  anzac centenary prisoner of war

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