The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (3827) Private William James Johnson, 2nd Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2017.1.37
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 6 February 2017
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
Description

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 (3827) Private William James Johnson, 2nd Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

3827 Private William James Johnson, 2nd Battalion, AIF
KIA 30 July 1916
No photograph in collection

Story delivered 6 February 2017

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private William James Johnson.

Popularly known as “Bill”, William Johnson was born in Yass on 20 January 1867 to William and Susan Johnson. After attending Orange Public School, he went on to become a coach builder. In 1889 he married Martha Burrell in Forbes, and the couple had a son and a daughter, Lachlan and Ivy. They also adopted a son, Eric Travis, after he was orphaned in 1908.

Johnson became a well-known agent for the Allied Works Council. Such was his popularity that in 1910 he successfully campaigned for a seat in the New South Wales House of Representatives, becoming the Labor member for Robertson. He failed in his re-election bid in 1913, but the following year was elected the Mayor of Auburn. He was described as “a rough diamond, ready to extend what help lay in his power to those who needed it”.

Johnson enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 14 August
1915. Aged 49, he was too old for active service, so he lied about his age and said he was 44. After passing the medical, he was posted to the 12th reinforcements to the 2nd Battalion. At a function in December 1915 where he was formally farewelled by the Auburn Council, Johnson gave a speech saying that “no man could appreciate more than he did all the kindness extended to him by the people of Auburn and the many expressions of good wishes for his welfare whilst on his hazardous trip abroad”. He departed Sydney on 30 December 1915 on board the troopship Medic.

Johnson first travelled to Egypt before heading to the Western Front. Arriving in France, Johnson, who had left Australia a corporal, reverted to the rank of private. He wrote home to say:
physically I am pretty fit, and I am sure that if given luck enough to dodge the death-dealing implements of the Germans … I shall return home and live ten years longer than if I had not enlisted … Australia is a great country and her democratic institutions … are worth defending.

The 2nd Battalion first experienced conditions on the Western Front in a quieter sector of the line. Nevertheless, Private Johnson wrote in a letter to a friend:
Experienced men tell me that our turn in the front line (my first) was the hottest any Australians in this part of the line of battle have had to endure … We had plenty of cannonading, the incessant rattle of machine guns; and thousands of men contributed with their rifles to the expenditure of death-dealing missiles from both sides of no man’s land … It was always very interesting, and when the artillery on both sides began to bang parapets and dugouts with high explosive shells, shrapnel etc, it was almost exciting.

Less than a fortnight later, on 23 July 1916, the 2nd Battalion took part in an operation which captured the French village of Pozières. This was an important position which commanded a view of the German lines, and its capture was a significant achievement. During the battle Private Johnson was struck in the head by a shell fragment and was evacuated from the battlefield with a fractured skull. He was taken to hospital in Ètaples, where he died of his wounds a week later. He was 50 years old. He is buried in Ètaples Military Cemetery under the words “at rest”.

Private Johnson’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among more than 60,000 Australians who died while serving in the First World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private William James
Johnson, 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 (3827) Private William James Johnson, 2nd Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)