The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX18629) Private Henry Saunders, 2/14th Battalion, AIF, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2016.2.344
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 9 December 2016
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
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 (VX18629) Private Henry Saunders, 2/14th Battalion, AIF, Second World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

VX18629 Private Henry Saunders, 2/14th Battalion, AIF
KIA 29 November 1942
Photograph: 089920

Story delivered 9 December 2016

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Henry Saunders.

Henry Saunders, a Gunditjmara man, was born at Allansford, Victoria, on 13 May 1921 to Christopher and Mabel Saunders. His father, Christopher, was a returned serviceman from the First World War. Henry and his older brother, Reginald, known as “Reg”, were brought up by their maternal grandmother after their own mother died, but the boys always remained close with their father. By the late 1930s Harry, Reg, and their father were in business together as timber cutters, but a bushfire in 1939 destroyed the business.

Harry was travelling when the Second World War began. Returning home, he found that Reg had already enlisted and embarked for service overseas with the 2/7th Battalion. He attempted to enlist under his proper name but was under age. He tried again, using the name “Harry” and putting his age up. He was accepted for service and joined the newly formed 2/14th Battalion.

He was posted to 9 Platoon, A Company. Little known at the time, this would become one of the most decorated and devastated platoons in the AIF.

Saunders embarked with his unit from Sydney in October 1940 aboard the transport Aquitania. Arriving in Egypt a little over a month later, the 2/14th Battalion was sent to Palestine, where they underwent training and prepared for action. Saunders met up with his brother in December. They travelled to Jerusalem and enjoyed their time together in the old city. It would be the last time Harry and Reg would meet.

The 2/14th was recalled to Egypt in April, and in June the Australian 7th Division was involved in the invasion of Syria and Lebanon to oust Vichy French forces. On 24 June 9 Platoon took part in an attack on a stone fortress known as “1284”. During the attack Saunders was wounded by grenade shrapnel in the chest, left arm, and face. He was evacuated to the 7th Australian General Hospital for surgery. After recovering, he rejoined his battalion in early August.

The 2/14th Battalion returned to Australia at the end of January 1942, and during his leave in Adelaide Saunders met Dorothy Banfield. The two began courting.

While training in Melbourne in mid-April, Saunders met up with his father and the two men had a beer together for the first time. The occasion was tempered by the absence of Reg, who had been missing in action since the Germans had captured Crete in mid-1941. During this time Saunders wrote as often as he could to Dorothy, and in early June he wrote with exciting news:

do you remember me telling you my brother was missing in Crete? Well, I got a wire from Dad the other day to say he had got off the island and is now in Egypt.

That August the 2/14th Battalion sailed for New Guinea, where the men made their way along the Owen Stanley Range towards the village of Kokoda. They encountered the Japanese at Isurava where, forced to withdraw, many Australians became cut off and were listed as missing in action. Among them was Harry Saunders. Exhausted and suffering from malaria, he staggered back to friendly lines seven weeks later. After some time spent recovering, he re-joined his unit in Port Moresby in early November. Towards the end of the month, the battalion was flown to Popondetta, and began to march towards Gona. By this stage of the campaign 9 Platoon was a shadow of its former self.

On 29 November Saunders’s battalion went into action at Gona Mission. The advance had barely begun when the Australians came under heavy
Japanese fire. Saunders was involved in a number of heavy engagements throughout the day, and in the late afternoon, as he and several mates made their way towards a Japanese bunker, he was shot in the head and killed instantly. He was 21 years old.

Saunders was initially laid to rest near Gona, but after the war his remains were reinterred in the Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War. His photograph is displayed beside the Pool of Reflection. Saunders is 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 Private Harry Saunders, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Michael Kelly
Historian, Military History Unit

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