The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (2772) Corporal William John Stephen, 55th Battalion, First World War

Place Europe: France, Nord Pas de Calais, Nord, Lille, Fromelles
Accession Number PAFU2014/243.01
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 July 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 Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

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 Charis May, the story for this day was on (2772) Corporal William John Stephen, 55th Battalion, First World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

2772 Corporal William John Stephen, 55th Battalion
KIA 20 July 1916
No photograph in collection

Story delivered 21 July 2014

Today we remember and pay tribute to Corporal William John Stephen.

Will Stephen – often called Billie – was one of three children born to Daniel and Mary Stephen. Daniel Stephen was a policeman who worked with the water police at Circular Quay and later from the station on George Street, Sydney. Will was born in Balmain and went to school in Redfern and later to technical college. He became a grocer’s assistant at a grocery in Ryde, and was also a member of the Ryde Choral Society.

Will enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 July 1915, one day after his brother-in-law, Leonard Beavan, a 28-year-old railway worker, and two days before his younger brother, Cecil Murray Stephen, a 20-year-old draftsman. Leonard was sent overseas with reinforcements to the 19th Battalion, but both Will and Cecil went with the 6th reinforcements to the 17th Battalion.

All three were sent to Egypt, where the AIF was undergoing a period of training and reorganisation. As a part of that process, Will was transferred to the 55th Battalion.

Will and the 55th Battalion were sent to France to fight on the Western Front. Will was considered “a good man [who] acquitted himself very well”, and was promoted to corporal shortly after arriving. The first major action for the 55th was the ill-fated attack on the French village of Fromelles. When the battle was over, the Australian 5th Division, of which the 55th Battalion was a part, had suffered over 5,500 casualties and could not fight again for many months.

One of those casualties was Will Stephen. He survived the original attack and took up a position in one of the captured German trenches. As he stood by another soldier in the trench he was shot through the head and died instantly. The private he was with took Will’s paybook from his pocket for identification, but had to leave his body behind when the men retired to their own lines the next morning.

Will’s body was never recovered, and he is commemorated on the VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial at Fromelles. He was sadly missed by his “loving parents, brother, sister and brother in law” as well as by a wide circle of friends. Will Stephen was 28 years old.

Will’s brother Cecil returned to Australia in 1919. His brother-in-law, Leonard, was transferred from the infantry to the artillery, and returned to Australia in 1917 due to illness.

Will Stephen’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, along with more than 60,000 others from the First World War. There is no photograph in the Memorial’s collection to display 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 Corporal William John Stephen, and all of those Australians who have given their lives in the service of our nation.

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