The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX38674) Lieutenant George Gardiner, 2/23rd Battalion, Second World War.

Place Africa: North Africa, Libya, Cyrenaica, Tobruk Area, Tobruk
Accession Number AWM2016.2.101
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 10 April 2016
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
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

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 (VX38674) Lieutenant George Gardiner, 2/23rd Battalion, Second World War.

Speech transcript

VX38674 Lieutenant George Gardiner, 2/23rd Battalion
DOW 18 May 1940
No photograph in collection

Story delivered 10 April 2016

Today we remember and pay tribute to Lieutenant George Gardiner.

George Gardiner was born in Tauranga, New Zealand, to Karehana and Rewa Gardiner. His grandfather was reportedly Irish, while his mother was a full-blood Maori, and George was probably raised in the Maori tradition. He was educated locally, and was a member of the Tauranga cadets until he left school. He became a mechanical engineer, and worked for Herbert Clark of Tauranga before the outbreak of the First World War.

Gardiner enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in February 1915. His Maori heritage saw him posted to the New Zealand Maori Contingent, and he served on Gallipoli and the Western Front. Gardiner proved an able soldier, and was promoted on a regular basis throughout his military career. He eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant. Gardiner was wounded on two occasions in 1916 and 1917, but remained on duty until late in the war, when he slipped over in a trench and hit his elbow so hard he was forced to recover in hospital.

George Gardiner was repatriated to New Zealand in early 1919. He became a well-known Rugby Union player, representing the All Blacks in 1922, 1925, and 1931 on tours in South Africa, America, and New Zealand. At some point he moved to Australia, where he took up boxing and wrestling. Gardiner became famous in the 1930s under his wrestling persona “Hori-Tiki”, and participated in matches around the country. At the height of his career he was 15 stone and considered “in splendid physical condition”. His best move was the “world-famous aeroplane spin”, and he was known to perform the Haka before his fights, claiming to be a Maori prince. He later married a woman named Mary.

Gardiner enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force in August 1940, giving a different date of birth to the one he provided on enlisting in New Zealand in 1915. He was commissioned into 2/23rd Battalion, and reportedly spent some time in Albury Camp as a physical culture instructor, participating in the odd “patriotic” wrestling match.

Lieutenant Gardiner left Australia for the Middle East in November 1940. In early 1941 a rapid German advance in Libya forced British and Commonwealth forces back towards the Egyptian border, and the Australian 9th Division fell back to the fortified port of Tobruk. Surrounded by German and Italian forces, Tobruk’s defenders withstood a dramatic siege which would last for eight months. In early May the Germans captured a portion of Tobruk’s outer perimeter, and this area became known as the Salient. In the early hours of 17 May the 2/23rd Battalion participated in an unsuccessful attempt to recapture the lost ground. Although some gains were made, they were temporary at best, and most of the Australian attacking parties were forced back with heavy casualties.

Lieutenant Gardiner was one of seven officers among the 95 Australians reported missing after the operation. Some suggested that he was taken to a British hospital in in Egypt, while others suggested that he and his party of men were captured, but that he had attacked the enemy with his bare fists, strangling three of them. An inquiry later determined that Gardiner had been shot through the abdomen and died of his wounds the day after the battle. He was buried in the Knightsbridge War Cemetery in Acroma, some 30 kilometres west of Tobruk. He is officially listed as having died aged 43, although he was probably much older.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 Australians who died during the Second World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Lieutenant George Gardiner, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Dr Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX38674) Lieutenant George Gardiner, 2/23rd Battalion, Second World War. (video)