The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Lieutenant Ernest William Spreadborough, 31st Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2016.2.337
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 2 December 2016
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

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 Lieutenant Ernest William Spreadborough, 31st Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

Lieutenant Ernest William Spreadborough, 31st Battalion, AIF
KIA 19 July 1916
Photograph: A03377

Story delivered 2 December 2016

Today we remember and pay tribute to Lieutenant Ernest Spreadborough, who was killed during the First World War.

Ernest Spreadborough was born in 1874, one of ten children of John and Ann Spreadborough of Warwick on the Darling Downs in south-east Queensland. He was raised in the area, became a school teacher, and married Edith Hamilton in 1900.

Spreadborough had been the headmaster at Brandon State School near Townsville before taking up an appointment at Mount Beppo on Lake Wivenhoe, and on the eve of the First World War he was a certified instructor of junior cadets as part of the government’s universal training scheme. This put him in good stead for military service in the coming years.

Spreadborough enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as soon as the strict entry requirements were relaxed in June 1915. By then he was 40 years old, and his younger brother Harold had already been invalided home from Gallipoli. Spreadborough was posted to the 31st Battalion, and given his previous experience was temporarily appointed company sergeant major. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant before the battalion embarked for Egypt the following month.

The fighting on Gallipoli was ending just as the 31st Battalion arrived in Egypt, so the following months were spent training in preparation for deployment to the Western Front. Spreadborough was promoted to lieutenant in March 1916 and set sail for France with the rest of the 5th Division two weeks later.

The 31st battalion was among the first Australian units to see action on the Western Front. Less than two weeks after arriving in France, the battalion was moved into the line near the town of Armentières. The 5th Division was allocated the task of attacking the German positions near the town of Fromelles in an attempt to prevent German troops in the area from being sent as reinforcements to the fighting on the Somme.

The inexperienced Australians and an equally inexperienced British division went into action at Fromelles on the evening of 19 July 1916. By the following morning, the Australian 5th Division had suffered some 5,500 casualties in what some historians say was the worst 24 hours in Australian history.

Among the missing was Ernest Spreadborough, who was last seen heading out into no man’s land to take command of B Company following news that his captain had been killed fighting in the German trenches. According to one eyewitness, he was hit by a German machine-gun as he headed out towards the trenches, but nobody knew of his condition or whereabouts. Spreadborough‘s body was discovered by an Australian patrol two months later. While the patrol removed his identification discs, no mention was made of his body being recovered.

Today he is commemorated on a memorial at VC Corner Cemetery near Fromelles, along with 1,184 Australians killed in the action who have no known graves.

Ernest Spreadborough’s name is also listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among more than 60,000 Australians who died while serving in the First World War. His photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection. He is seated in the front row, third from the right.

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

Aaron Pegram
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Lieutenant Ernest William Spreadborough, 31st Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)