Remarkable History of 2597 CPL Frederick Prentice MM

18/01/1894 - 22/11/1957

Frederick's biological mother was an unidentified Jingili woman from the Northern Territory, Elliot / Newcastle Waters area. His biological father was Alfred Leslie Prentice from Victoria who worked as a drover, station manager and a mail contractor. For unbeknownst reasons, Frederick was placed in the care of Walter James 'Dan' Kell and his wife Isabella Jane Kell who were managing Powell Creek Telegraph Station. 

In 1905 the Kell family returned to Adelaide with their two adopted children and they were educated at Kyre College.

When enlisting to fight in WWI, Corporal Frederick Prentice lied to officials about the fact that he was Aboriginal. The Indigenous People of Australia, were not allowed to join the army, he said he was Maori. Prentice's unit embarked from Adelaide on board HMAT 'Morea' on 26 August 1915.

He transferred to 1st Pioneer Battalion on 13 March 1916 and was appointed to Lance Corporal in France on 1 August 1916. Prentice was awarded the Military Medal for service at Mouquet Farm in France during August 1916 (Source: 'Commonwealth Gazette' No. 62. Date: 19 April 1917). The citation for his Military Medal is as follows: At Pozieres, France on 19th July 1916, L/Cpl.

Prentice showed great courage, resource and ability in bringing machine guns and ammunition through the enemy barrage in the dark and across broken ground. He was one of Cpl. William's party and assisted the N.C.O. in every way. (Sgd) H.B.W Major general Commanding 1st Aust. Division He reverted to the rank of Private at his own request on 12 December 1916.

Prentice undertook training with 21st Machine Gun Company from 16 August 1917 and was promoted again to Lance Corporal on 2 October 1917. He was promoted to Corporal on 31 Jan 1918 and returned to Australia on board the City of Poona’ on 28 March 1919.

CPL Frederick Prentice MM died in Katherine, Northern Territory on 22 November 1957 unknown and without family or friends. Using the fact that Prentice had told a fellow worker that he had served in World War One, the Acting Superintendent of Police, Northern Territory asked AIF Base records for help in identifying his next of kin. The information the police already had was that the dead man was half Maori and had died of a heart attack. Corporal Frederick Prentice died alone and lay in an unmarked grave for over 60 years.

When Aboriginal elders Aunty Jaunita Heparia and Aunty Ellen Gough of the Katherine Stolen Generation Group discovered that an Aboriginal Soldier was buried in Katherine, they made it their mission to have him recognised. After they were told that they could not get a headstone they said "No, its going to happen. Because he deserved it."

Seven (7) years later, they achieved one of the most historical moments in the Katherine Region. On the 29th day of September 2021, a dedication service at the Katherine Memorial Cemetery was held. Corporal Frederick Prentice's grave was finally marked in emotional ceremony.

It was Council's absolute pleasure to partake in this dedication service and to witness the movements that these remarkable women have achieved. This will be a day that we will never forget and this gentleman Corporal Frederick Prentice MM, will always be apart of the History of Katherine and the Indigenous People of Katherine and Australia. 

If you wish to sight the Order of Service Booklet for 2597 CPL Frederick Prentice MM click here.