The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1427) Sergeant Charles Olson, 29th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Place Middle East: Persia, Hamadan
Accession Number PAFU2015/440.01
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 30 October 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 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 (1427) Sergeant Charles Olson, 29th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

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Speech transcript

1427 Sergeant Charles Olson, 29th Battalion, AIF
DOD 6 September 1918
Photograph: E01622 (detail)

Story delivered 30 October 2015

Today we remember and pay tribute to Sergeant Charles Olson, who died while fighting in modern-day Iraq during the First World War.

Charles Olson was born in 1890, one of four children of John and Joanna Olson of Footscray in Melbourne. Known as “Charlie” within the family, he attended St Monica’s Catholic School and afterwards worked as a blacksmith on the eve of the First World War.

Olson enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in July 1915, and after a period of training at Broadmeadows Camp embarked for Egypt with a reinforcement group for the 29th Battalion. No sooner had Olson arrived than he was hospitalised for several months with a severe case of enteric fever. He re-joined his battalion just before it sailed for France in June 1916, and filed into the trenches for the first time near the village of Fleurbaix. Here Olson was hospitalised for a second time, this time with a severe case of influenza and bronchopneumonia, and he was evacuated to England.

He was fortunate to miss out on the fighting at Fromelles in July, during which the Australians suffered 5,500 casualties in less than 24 hours. In fact, it was November before he was back with his battalion, holding the line on the Somme between the villages of Flers and Gueudecourt. Following the German withdrawal from the Somme the 29th Battalion too part in the allied advance and the bitter fighting at Bullecourt. In April Olson was promoted to lance corporal and put in command of his platoon’s Lewis gun section.

Towards the end of 1917 the focus of British operations on the Western Front shifted north to Belgium. In September the Australian 5th Division, including the 29th Battalion, successfully captured the German bastion at Polygon Wood as part of a step-by-step advance towards the village of Passchendaele. Olson was recommended for a Military Medal for his work that day defending against repeated German counter-attacks, during which he “kept his gun in action, and under heavy fire, maintained a vigorous offensive by firing at the enemy whenever they showed themselves”. He was not awarded the medal, but was commended by the Army Corps Commander for his “gallant conduct”.

The 29th Battalion suffered heavily throughout the following months, and Olson was promoted to sergeant. As a highly trained soldier with excellent leadership qualities and proven experience in gallant conduct, he was selected when Australian commanders sought men for a “very important and special mission” with the British Army in January 1918. He was among 80 Australian officers and NCOs selected for what became known as “Dunsterforce” – an allied military mission of 1,000 Australian, New Zealand, British, and Canadian troops charged with gathering information while training and commanding Georgian and Armenian militia groups against Turkish operations in the Caucasus.

As part of the “Baghdad Party” Olson travelled across France and Italy to Taranto and Alexandria, down the Suez Canal to Kuwait and eventually reaching Baghdad in Mesopotamia. From there the mission set off by foot and armoured vehicle towards the oilfields of Baku on the Caspian Sea, setting up headquarters at Hamedan in what is now part of Iran. Baku was the ultimate objective of the advancing Turkish forces, and Dunsterforce endured a short, brutal siege in September 1918 before being forced back to Baghdad.

Although there was relatively little fighting in the area, conditions were harsh and disease was endemic. On 6 September 1918 Olson died at the Military Hospital at Hamadan following a short bout of malaria. Just 28 years old, Olson was buried at the Military Cemetery at Hamadan, but was later reinterred in the grounds of the British Embassy at Tehran, where he rests today.

Charles Olson is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, along with 60,000 others from the First World War. His photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection. Olson stands among the NCOs of the 29th Battalion, in the middle row, tenth from the left.

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

Aaron Pegram
Historian, Military History Section

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