The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX23250) Corporal William Humphries, 2/13th Battalion (Infantry), Second World War

Accession Number PAFU2014/033.01
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 2 February 2014
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
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

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 (NX23250) Corporal William Humphries, 2/13th Battalion (Infantry), Second World War.

Speech transcript

NX23250 Corporal William Humphries, 2/13th Battalion, AIF
KIA 14 August 1942
Photograph: P11356.001

Story delivered 2 February 2014

Today we remember and pay tribute to Corporal William Humphries.

William Humphries was born on 2 February 1913 in Moree, New South Wales. He had a difficult childhood, spending much of it in an orphanage. He eventually made his way to Sydney, where he found lodgings with the Cohen family at Bondi. Here he met Phoebe Cohen, whom he married in 1933. During this difficult employment period Humphries found intermittent work in a glassworks factory. At age 27 he enlisted with the AIF in Paddington on 31 May 1940, and was placed in the 2/13th Battalion, known as the "Devil's own".

Humphries trained at Ingleburn and Bathurst before sailing with his battalion from Sydney to the Middle East in October. Arriving the following month, the battalion travelled to Palestine and then on to Libya.

By now German forces had bolstered the Italians at Tripoli and were advancing east, and the British were forced to evacuate Benghazi and fall back to Tobruk. The 2/13th Battalion covered the withdrawal, and at Er Regima in April 1941 was the war's first completely Australian unit to fight German troops. Outnumbered and vulnerable, the battalion withdrew to join the rest of the division at Tobruk five days later.

The battalion helped defend the fortress at Tobruk for eight months, during which William Humphries was promoted to the rank of corporal. His was the only Australian battalion to see out the siege until it was lifted in December 1941. It was here that the men of the 2/13th adopted their famous nickname after being referred to by a Nazi broadcaster as "poor desert rats of Tobruk".

By July 1942 German and Italian forces had reached El Alamein, about seventy miles from Alexandria. The 9th Division rushed to Alamein and held the northern sector for almost four months. The 2/13th reached the forward British defences in mid-July and moved to Tel El Eisa in early August.

On the night of 14 August William Humphries and D Company were on patrol when they encountered the enemy. Commanding officer Lieutenant Edmunds charged a sentry but was shot and killed. The patrol was hit by fire from all directions and chaos ensued. Corporal William Humphries rallied D Company and attempted to lead them out, but in the ensuing battle was reported missing. Further enquiries determined that he had been killed in action. He was not forgotten, however, and after an extended investigation his body was discovered and he was finally laid to rest the following year.

Phoebe Humphries never remarried and spoke little of her husband after his death. She single-handedly raised her daughters, Audrey and Lynette, and became a much loved matriarch of the generations that followed. William Humphries' portrait and medals now hang in the family's living room.

William Humphries is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with around 40,000 others from the Second World War. His photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Corporal William Humphries and all those Australians who have given their lives in service of our nation.

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX23250) Corporal William Humphries, 2/13th Battalion (Infantry), Second World War (video)