|Middle East: Iraq
|Last Post film
Australian War Memorial
|Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
|30 July 2015
First World War, 1914-1918
Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
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The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Lieutenant George Pinnock Merz, No. 30 Squadron Australian Flying Corps attached Royal Flying Corps, First World War
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 Gerard Pratt, the story for this day was on Lieutenant George Pinnock Merz, No. 30 Squadron Australian Flying Corps attached Royal Flying Corps, First World War.Film order form
Lieutenant George Pinnock Merz, No. 30 Squadron Australian Flying Corps attached Royal Flying Corps
KIA 30 July 1915
Story delivered 30 July 2015
Today we remember and pay tribute to Lieutenant George Pinnock Merz, who died during the First World War.
George Merz was born in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran in October 1891, one of three children of George and Annie Merz. The family moved to Ballarat when George was young and he attended school there, including the prestigious Grenville College. He was an excellent student, and after finishing college he was accepted into the University of Melbourne to study medicine. He thrust himself into university life, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Melbourne University Rifles in 1913.
The storm clouds of war were gathering as Merz prepared for his final exams in August 1914. Around the same time, a new military flying school had opened at Point Cook, near Melbourne, and Merz’s interest in aviation was piqued by their flying demonstrations. After satisfying the requirements for entry, he was accepted into training at the Central Flying School. Around this time he completed his degree in medicine.
Merz completed his flying training in November 1914, and the day after his graduation as Dux of the Course; he travelled to New Guinea as part of the first Australian operational aviation deployment attached to the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force. Much to the men’s frustration and disappointment, the unit was ultimately not required in New Guinea and returned home in January 1915. Merz returned to Point Cook as an instructor while juggling part-time work at the Melbourne Hospital.
In February 1915 the Australian government agreed to send a small team of aviators to support the British effort in Mesopotamia. The Half-Flight, a unit of 45 personnel (including four airmen) left for India in April 1915, just as Australian troops were preparing for their landing on the Gallipoli peninsula.
Having completed his teaching duties at Point Cook, Merz joined his colleagues in Basra as a fully commissioned officer in the Australian Flying Corps. It was June, high summer, and the extreme heat caused sickness and disease among the men and affected the Half-Flight’s machines. Even so, the Australians played an active role in reconnoitring enemy positions as the British forces pushed north from Basra to Nasiriyeh. Merz was Mentioned in Despatches for his work during the successful capture of Nasiriyeh from the Turks, work which included treating casualties of the battle in a makeshift hospital.
On 30 July 1915 Merz and New Zealander Lieutenant William Burn left Nasiriyeh to return to Basra. They never arrived, and two days later their plane was found badly damaged, with no trace of its passengers. A court of inquiry determined that the men had been forced to land, after which they were attacked and killed by a group of hostile Bedouins. F.M. Cutlack, the official historian of the Australian Flying Corps during the First World War, called the loss of the two men “a severe blow” to their colleagues.
Despite extensive searches, the bodies of the two men were never found. They are commemorated on a special memorial in Basra recognising the 40,500 Commonwealth servicemen who died in Mesopotamia during the war and who have no known grave.
George Merz’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour to my right, along with the names of more than 60,000 other Australians who died fighting in the First World War. His photo is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.
This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Lieutenant George Pinnock Merz, and all those Australians who have given their lives in the service of our nation.
Dr Kate Ariotti
Historian, Military History Section
National Archives of Australia, service record, George Pinnock Merz.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website: http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/1657888/MERZ,%20GEORGE%20PINNOCK.
T.L. Smart, “Remembering Lieutenant Merz: Australia’s military aviation medical officer pioneer”, JASAM vol. 2, no. 1, July 2005, pp. 11–17.
F.M. Cutlack, Official history of Australia in the war of 1914–1918, volume VIII: Australian Flying Corps, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1935, p. 11.
Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Lieutenant George Pinnock Merz, No. 30 Squadron Australian Flying Corps attached Royal Flying Corps, First World War (video)