|Object type||Last Post film|
Australian War Memorial
|Place made||Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell|
|Date made||03 April 2017|
Second World War, 1939-1945
Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
|Copying Provisions||Copy provided for personal non-commercial use|
The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX39927) Private John Edward Harris, 2/21st Battalion, Second Australian Imperial Force, Second World War.
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 (VX39927) Private John Edward Harris, 2/21st Battalion, Second Australian Imperial Force, Second World War.
VX39927 Private John Edward Harris, 2/21st Battalion, Second Australian Imperial Force
Died of illness 2 April 1945
Story delivered 3 April 2017
Today we pay tribute to Private John Edward Harris.
Known to family and friends as “Jack”, John Edward Harris was born on 1 July 1918 in Dulwich Hill, New South Wales, the eldest of four boys and three girls born to William and Margaret Harris.
The Harris family grew up at the family grocers shop, and Jack Harris attended the local school in Lewisham, where he was dux of his intermediate year.
Following school, and in the midst of the Great Depression, the family were greatly excited when Jack was offered a position as honey grader at the Producers Distributing Society. He was at first based in Sydney, but after a promotion moved to Melbourne.
On 24 February 1941, Jack Harris enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force at Royal Park in Melbourne. He was posted to the 2/21st Battalion, part of the 23rd Brigade of the 8th Division. The battalion began training in central at Trawool, in central Victoria, before they marched 235 km to Bonegilla, near Wodonga. There they trained until March 1941, when they made the journey, by truck, through the red centre to Darwin.
The battalion was slated to reinforce Dutch units based on the island of Ambon in the Netherlands East Indies, but first endured an unhappy nine-month stay in Darwin.
Following Japan’s entry into the war in early December 1941, the 2/21st Battalion was finally sent to Ambon, where it joined supporting Australian units to become “Gull Force”.
The Japanese invaded Ambon on 30 January 1942 and quickly overwhelmed the Dutch forces. Despite acts of brave and determined resistance, the 2/21st Battalion could not hold back the Japanese. Two companies of the battalion surrendered at Laha Airfield on 2 February and were massacred. The remainder of the men, including Private Harris, surrendered a day later and were imprisoned in their former barracks at Tan Tui.
Conditions for prisoners of war on Ambon were harsh. The prisoners were starved and worked to death. By 1945, conditions were desperate, and large numbers of prisoners began succumbing to tropical illnesses and disease, including Harris, who died on 2 April 1945 from beriberi, an illness caused by vitamin deficiencies brought on by the captives’ meagre diet.
He was 26 years old.
Over 70 per cent of the Australian prisoners of war on Ambon did not survive the war.
Jack Harris’s brothers, Kevin, Bill, and Patrick, also served. Kevin and Bill joined the Royal Australian Air Force. Kevin served as a mechanic with No. 3 Squadron in Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Bill served as a radar technician in New Guinea and on Manus Island. Patrick served with the 2/26th Battalion, and like Jack, was a prisoner of the Japanese. Patrick spent his captivity in Changi at Singapore.
When the war ended on 15 August 1945, the Harris family had not received much news about the fates of Jack and Patrick. Both had been reported as missing, and little more had been discovered over the past three and a half years. Relief came in September when Patrick’s name appeared on a list of recovered prisoners of war published in the newspaper. This brought much jubilation to the family. But that afternoon, a telegram was delivered to Mrs Harris at the grocery shop, announcing that Jack had died several months earlier.
Jack Harris is buried in the Ambon War Cemetery. His epitaph, chosen by his family, reads:
HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR US
WE SHALL NOT FORGET “JACK” … R.I.P.
His name is listed here on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 Australians who died while serving in 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 Private John Edward Harris, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.
Historian, Military History Section
Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX39927) Private John Edward Harris, 2/21st Battalion, Second Australian Imperial Force, Second World War. (video)