The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX19013) Acting Sergeant Donald John Hamley, 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, Second World War

Accession Number PAFU2014/416.01
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 3 November 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 Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (VX19013) Acting Sergeant Donald John Hamley, 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, Second World War.

Speech transcript

VX19013 Acting Sergeant Donald John Hamley, 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion
DOD 18 June 1943
Photograph provided by the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion Association

Story delivered 3 November 2014

Today we remember Acting Sergeant Donald John Hamley, who died working on the Burma–Thailand Railway in 1943.
Donald “Don” Hamley was born on 16 June 1921 in Guildford, a north-east suburb of Perth. He was the eldest of three sons to Colin and Doris Hamley. Colin Hamley had returned from the Great War having served on the Western Front, where he was gassed. In the early 1920s the family moved to Victoria.

Don Hamley attended Moonee Ponds West State School and Essendon High School. He left school at 15, initially working as an office boy with the Columbia Graphophone Company before taking a position with a chemical manufacturing firm. A keen batsman, Hamley played for many years with the “Essendon sons of soldiers’ cricket club”.

When the Second World War broke out Hamley was determined to play his part in the conflict, and after France fell he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 29 May 1940. He was working as a trainee industrial chemist but, as this was a reserved occupation, he instead stated he was a clerk so his enlistment would not be refused. He similarly put his age up two years, falsely claiming to be 21 so he could enlist in the AIF without his parent’s written consent. Three weeks earlier his younger brother Colin had enlisted in the AIF; he, too, put his age up in order to serve.

The Hamley brothers were posted to the newly raised 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, joining the battalion’s signals section. Don was soon promoted to corporal and later acting sergeant. He took his rank and responsibilities seriously. Private Colin Hamley noted how his brother became more reserved.

After nearly a year’s training at Puckapunyal, Victoria, the battalion sailed for the Middle East in April 1941. In June the battalion began its first campaign, supporting the Australian 7th Division in the British invasion of Syria and Lebanon against the Vichy French. The pioneers played prominent roles in the fighting around Merdjayoun and Damour.

Following the outbreak of war in the Pacific, in early 1942 most of the AIF were recalled from the Middle East. The 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, along with the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, a field company, and other support units, sailed for Australia aboard the Orcades, but with the Japanese advancing rapidly across Asia and the Pacific they were diverted to Batavia, Java, in a forlorn attempt to stem the enemy’s thrust in the Netherlands East Indies.

Codenamed “Blackforce”, the delaying action against the invading Japanese began at Leuwiliang in western Java on 4 March. Four days later, however, all Allied forces on Java were ordered to surrender by Dutch command. This included 865 officers and men from the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion.

The Japanese employed prisoners as an expendable labour force. In October 1942 Don Hamley was sent with a working group for Changi, Singapore, and left two days later for the infamous Burma–Thailand Railway. Arriving in Changi the day the first group left, Colin Hamley remained in Singapore for several months before he too was sent to Burma.

The last time Colin saw his brother was while travelling by vehicle along the railway. Don must have heard his younger brother was coming through, and he threw a handful of cigarettes to Colin as the truck drove passed. A few months later Colin received news that Don had died at 40 kilo camp from dysentery, malaria, and malnutrition.

Don Hamley died two days after his 22nd birthday. In all, 258 members of the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion died while prisoners of the Japanese, the majority while working on the Burma–Thailand Railway.

Don Hamley is buried in Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery in Burma (now Myanmar). He is also listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with some 40,000 other Australians from the Second World War. His photograph is displayed 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 Acting Sergeant Donald John Hamley and all of those Australians who have given their lives in service of our nation.

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX19013) Acting Sergeant Donald John Hamley, 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, Second World War (video)