The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (37395) Bombardier Ralph Alexander Colley, 3rd AFA Brigade Australian Field Artillery, First World War

Accession Number PAFU2013/058.01
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 29 September 2013
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 Andrew Smith, the story for this day was on (37395) Bombardier Ralph Alexander Colley, 3rd AFA Brigade Australian Field Artillery, First World War.

Speech transcript

37395 Bombardier Ralph Alexander Colley, 3rd Brigade Australian Field Artillery
DOW 29 September 1918
Photograph: P04735.001

Story delivered 29 September 2013

Today, on the 95th Anniversary of the breaking of the Hindenburg Line, we remember and pay tribute to Bombardier Ralph Alexander Colley.

Ralph Colley was the only son of Alexander John and Charlotte Kendall Colley. He was also the grandson of Mr James Colley, the first Mayor of Kiama, New South Wales. Ralph was born in Berry, where his father was the Manager of the English, Scottish & Australian Bank. Ralph attended the North Sydney Church of England Grammar School, and afterwards followed his father into banking. He was working as a bank clerk for the Commercial Bank in Parramatta when war broke out in 1914.

Ralph Colley did not enlist for active service straight away. In January 1916 his father died, and Ralph took his new role as head of the household seriously. In March 1917 he finally joined the Australian Imperial Forces from an overriding sense of duty. Before he left Australia, friends and colleagues gathered to say farewell and wish him "every hope of a safe return". The manager of his bank presented Colley with a silver wristwatch and wallet as a token of their esteem and with their best hopes for the future.

Colley was sent to England with reinforcements to the Field Artillery. After a period of training there he went to France in March 1918 with the rank of gunner in the 3rd Brigade of the Australian Field Artillery.

By mid-1918 the war was turning in the Allies' favour. Great advances had been made since early August, and the battery was now regularly moving forward in line with infantry advances. By late September, the AIF was poised to participate in an operation against the last great German defence on the Western Front - the Hindenburg Line.

As the 3rd Battery moved forward to support this operation, they came under German artillery fire. Colley was sitting on his gun as it was being pulled along the road when a shell burst alongside him and he was hit in the right leg, foot and side. A man who saw him put on the stretcher and carried away described him as "practically dead", although he survived long enough to get to a casualty clearing station. The best that could be done for him was done, but he died very shortly after admission.

The Hindenburg Line was broken in that operation, but Ralph's mother and sisters were left to grieve their "devoted son and brother". It was written of him that he was "as fine a type of young Australian as could be found" and he was long remembered by his family. The following year, when his youngest sister, Hope, married a returned soldier, the wedding was a quiet affair, overshadowed by the memory of Ralph.

His damaged wristwatch, probably the one given to him by his workplace, was returned to his mother. Ralph Colley was buried in France, aged 24.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, along with more than 60,000 others from the First World War, and his photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Bombardier Ralph Alexander Colley, and all those Australians who have given their lives in the service of our nation.

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (37395) Bombardier Ralph Alexander Colley, 3rd AFA Brigade Australian Field Artillery, First World War (video)