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Niau, John Samuel (1882–1918)

by Les Hetherington

John Niau

John Niau

photo supplied by Les Hetherington

John Samuel Niau (1882-1918), farmer and soldier, was born on 12 December 1882 at Port Douglas, Queensland, the third son and seventh child of Henri Joseph Niau, selector and cane grower, and his wife Marie Caroline, née Jacobs, both born in Paris, France. In 1886, the family moved to Sydney, New South Wales, where John’s father died in 1888, when John was only five years old. His mother became a boarding school mistress and John was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart before attending St Joseph’s College, Hunter’s Hill. After school he initially worked in a shipping office before training as a wool classer and taking up farming at Wombo Creek, near Chinchilla, in central Queensland – although he gave his address in 1915 when he enlisted for service in the first Australian Imperial Force as his mother’s, 36 Tyrell Street, Newcastle, New South Wales.

Niau departed Australia with the second reinforcements of the 12th Light Horse Regiment, 4th Light Horse Brigade, on HMAT Chilka, on 7 June 1915. He served forty days on Gallipoli before being evacuated to Egypt with malaria on 11 November 1915. He then served with the 12th Light Horse in Egypt and Palestine up to April 1918, including in the capture of Beersheba. From Gaza Niau had written in 1917 that the country was ‘wonderful, in a way’ and planted with unharvested wheat or barley: ‘yet I don’t like it, from a soldier’s point of view; no firewood and no water’. Later, on 29 April 1918, he had written to his aunt in Paris of the superb view of the Dead Sea and the valley of the Jordan he had from the regiment’s position near Jericho. The Light Horse at this time were preparing to advance across the Jordan towards Es Salt and Amman, the aim being to capture Es Salt, sever the rail link north and destroy the Ottoman position east of the river. John Niau was killed in this advance, at Es Salt, on 30 April, when an artillery shell burst in the observation post which he occupied. He was buried on the battlefield, but his body was not recovered subsequently, and his name is recorded on the Jerusalem War Cemetery Memorial to the Missing. He is recorded also in a drawing by Frank Marien commemorating St Joseph’s ‘Boys Who Fell’ in the First World War, reproduced in the school’s centenary history.

John Niau was unmarried, his mother being his beneficiary and his sister, Josephine, his executor.

Original Publication

  • People Australia, 2012

Additional Resources

Citation details

Les Hetherington, 'Niau, John Samuel (1882–1918)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 28 October 2020.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012