The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1003) Sergeant Robert Angus Whitelaw, 21st Battalion, First World War

Place Europe: France, Picardie, Somme, Bapaume Cambrai Area, Bullecourt
Accession Number PAFU2014/204.01
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 21 June 2014
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

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 (1003) Sergeant Robert Angus Whitelaw, 21st Battalion, First World War.

Speech transcript

1003 Sergeant Robert Angus Whitelaw, 21st Battalion
KIA 3 May 1917
Photograph: DA09096

Story delivered 21 June 2014

Today we remember and pay tribute to Sergeant Robert Angus Whitelaw.

Robert Whitelaw was the eldest son of Robert and Annie Whitelaw of Briagolong, Victoria. He was one of six brothers to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force and fight in the First World War. He enlisted in January 1915 at the age of 29 and was sent overseas with the 21st Battalion.

Robert arrived on the Gallipoli peninsula in late August 1915, where he served for a number of months. He missed the evacuation by a month because he had been taken to hospital with a hernia a few weeks earlier. At this stage of the war two of his brothers had already enlisted, served, and been repatriated to Australia. Lionel Whitelaw was on Gallipoli when he was shot in the face and, surviving the wounds, was repatriated to Australia. His brother Felix suffered from sunstroke in Egypt and had also been sent back to Australia, but was in the process of reenlisting.

Robert missed some of the early heavy fighting on the Western Front around Pozières through serving as a guard in Abbassia. His brother Ivan was gassed in these battles, and another, Angus, was killed in action.

In May 1917 the 21st Battalion was put into action against the German defences at Bullecourt. Sergeant Robert Whitelaw did not survive the battle. He was hit by a shell and killed instantly. His body was unable to be recovered. His brother Ivan was awarded the Military Medal for his service at Bullecourt, but he would be killed a year later in the Belgian village of Meteren.

Three of the Whitelaw brothers died during the war, and three returned home. Of the latter two died young men as a result of wounds suffered during the war. Their mother, Annie Whitelaw, was devastated by the loss of her sons. Such was her distress that a blind had to cover the Roll of Honour in the Briagolong community hall. Every year she “would sit crying in her horse and jinker watching the Anzac Day march from a distance, because she could not bear to go any closer”. A memorial was raised to her after her death to commemorate her role in the war effort – giving six of her sons to fight – and the work of all the women in the district throughout the war. The epitaph on the memorial, which was heartily supported throughout the district of Briagolong, bears the words of Conan Doyle: “Happy is the woman who can die with the thought that in the hour of her country’s greatest need she gave her utmost.”

Sergeant Robert Whitelaw’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, along with the names of his brothers, Corporal Ivan Cecil Whitelaw and Private Angus McSween Whitelaw, and more than 60,000 others from the First World War. His photograph is displayed today by 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 Sergeant Robert Angus Whitelaw, and all of those Australians who have given their lives in service of our nation.

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