The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (317) Private William Henry Onley, 7th Battalion (Infantry), First World War

Place Middle East: Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Dardanelles, Gallipoli, Cape Helles Area, Cape Helles
Accession Number PAFU2015/168.01
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 28 April 2015
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 Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (317) Private William Henry Onley, 7th Battalion (Infantry), First World War.

Speech transcript

317 Private William Henry Onley, 7th Battalion (Infantry)
KIA 8 May 1915
No photograph in collection

Story delivered 28 April 2015

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private William Henry Onley, who died during the First World War.

William Onley was born in 1893 in the town of Donald, Victoria, one of George and Mary Onley’s 12 children. At 21 William was working as a baker when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted to the 7th Battalion, just a few weeks after the outbreak of war in August 1914.

That October, after spending several months at Broadmeadows training camp, Private Onley embarked for Egypt with his battalion on HMAT Hororata. The battalion arrived in December, and in mid-April 1915 was sent to the island of Lemnos in preparation for the second allied attack on the Gallipoli peninsula.

The 7th Battalion landed on Gallipoli at 5:30 am on 25 April. After ten days in the trenches the battalion was ordered to move to Cape Helles on the southern tip of the peninsula. Here they would take part in an attack against the town of Krithia, a Turkish stronghold and the objective of the British since the first day of the landings.

The 7th Battalion was ordered into action at 5 pm on 8 May. Its orders were to form the front line of an attack against the enemy trenches, with the ultimate goal taking the hill to the rear of the town. This was a fierce and dangerous advance. The enemy position was heavily defended and the toll on the Australians was enormous. In just over one hour the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Battalions suffered 1,000 casualties. Official historian Charles Bean wrote that the attack was “made in the teeth of rifle and machine-gun fire such as Australians seldom again encountered during the war”.

The 7th Battalion suffered approximately 250 casualties in the attack, including Private Onley. The exact particulars of William’s death are unknown. He was wounded at some point during the attack, and was later posted as missing. His anxious family wrote several letters to AIF headquarters asking for more news. Eventually, a court of inquiry held in France some two years later found that William had been killed in action on 8 May, and the Onley family was officially informed of the loss of its son and brother.

William Onley is commemorated at the Cape Helles memorial, a 30-metre-high obelisk visible to ships passing through the Dardanelles. This memorial lists the names of more than 21,000 British, Indian, and Australian troops who died at Helles and elsewhere on the peninsula but have no known grave.

William Onley’s name is also listed on the Roll of Honour to my right, along with those of more than 60,000 other Australians who died fighting in the First World War.

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

Dr Kate Ariotti
Historian, Military History Section

Sources:
www.ancestry.com

7th Battalion War Diary, April 1915 (AWM4 23/24/2) and May 1915 (AWM4 23/24/3), Australian War Memorial.

National Archives of Australia, William Henry Onley attestation papers, “Report of death of a soldier”.

C.E.W. Bean, Official history of Australia in the war of 1914–1918, vol. II, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1921–42.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission: http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/76100/HELLES%20MEMORIAL

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (317) Private William Henry Onley, 7th Battalion (Infantry), First World War (video)