The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (6079) Corporal Bertie Joseph Samuel Harding, 19th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2021.1.1.168
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 17 June 2021
Access Open
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use
Description

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (6079) Corporal Bertie Joseph Samuel Harding, 19th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

6079 Corporal Bertie Joseph Samuel Harding, 19th Battalion, AIF
KIA: 31 August 1918

Today we remember and pay tribute to Corporal Bertie Joseph Samuel Harding.

Bertie Harding was born in 1898 in Rylstone, New South Wales, the son of Joseph and Annie Harding. He grew up in Mudgee, and was educated at district schools in Mudgee and Forbes. After gaining his intermediate certificate in education, he went on to work for the Australian Bank of Commerce as a clerk. As a boy he was well known as an athlete around Mudgee and Forbes, and won several schools’ athletic championships. Bert’s other abiding interest was the church. He was a regular attendee at Sunday School and other church activities, and in his late teens acted as a lay reader in the Church of England in Forbes.

Bert Harding enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in early 1916, allegedly putting his age up by one month to reach the minimum enlistment requirement of 18 years. He underwent a period of training in Australia before leaving for active service overseas with reinforcements to the 19th Battalion in October 1916.

After further training in England, including a training course at the musketry school of instruction at Tidworth, he was sent to France with “a fair knowledge of [the] Lewis gun”. Less than a month after reaching his battalion, his competence as a soldier was rewarded with a promotion to corporal.

On 9 July 1916 the 19th Battalion took part in a 2nd Division-wide exercise near the French village of Beaulencourt. A practice operation to test the division’s capability in exploiting success, it “worked fairly well”, according to the war diary. At some point during the operation, however, Corporal Harding was wounded by a bomb blast, and was sent to hospital in England for treatment to a damaged thumb. A court martial cleared him of blame in the matter.

Harding was not fit to return to the battlefield until just after Christmas 1917. In April the following year he was gassed, and spent another month in hospital before returning to his battalion.

In August 1918 the Australian Corps took part in the great British offensive that would become known as “the Hundred Days” leading to the Armistice in November 1918. Following the huge advance of the first day at the battle of Amiens, Australian battalions rotated in and out of the front line, launching a series of attacks that inexorably pushed the Germans back towards the Hindenburg Line.

On 11 August, the 19th Battalion was attacking near the French village of Reincourt, when its left company was held up by machine-gun fire. With a quarter of its strength unable to advance, the battalion lost contact with its neighbouring battalion, and the entire advance was threatened. Later reports state that “with absolute fearlessness Corporal Harding worked around behind the enemy and heavily bombed them. The suddenness of the attack scattering the enemy who were shot down by a Lewis Gun in their efforts to escape … The fine dash and energy of this NCO removed a difficult obstacle and enabled communication to be established between the two battalions without further trouble.”

Harding went on to personally capture two prisoners and two enemy machine-guns, and was later recommended for the Military Medal for is “marked courage and initiative”.

It is not known whether or not Bert Harding actually knew he had been awarded the Military Medal. Less than three weeks later his battalion was part of a force that attacked German positions on Mont St Quentin near Peronne. After a difficult river crossing, the men ran up the slope “screeching like bushrangers” with little artillery fire to protect their advance. Against all the odds, the heights of Mont St Quentin were captured by the 2nd Australian Division, albeit with heavy casualties.

One of those killed was Corporal Bert Harding. He was killed outright in the enemy machine-gun fire as the men advanced. Harding’s body was later retrieved from the battlefield, and buried by his comrades. Today he lies in the Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension under the words “A father’s pride, a mother’s joy, a loving brother and faithful friend.” Bert Harding was 20 years old.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among almost 62,000 Australians who died while serving in the First World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Corporal Bertie Joseph Samuel Harding, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section