The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (577) Lance Corporal Michael John O’Connell, 10th Battalion, AIF, First 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 Michael Kelly, the story for this day was on (577) Lance Corporal Michael John O’Connell, 10th Battalion, AIF, First World War.
577 Lance Corporal Michael John O’Connell, 10th Battalion, AIF
KIA 23 July 1916
Story delivered 23 July 2017
Today we remember and pay tribute to Lance Corporal Michael John O’Connell.
Michael O’Connell was born on 14 August 1893 at Ninnes, South Australia, to James and Elizabeth O’Connell. He attended primary school in Port Pirie before going on to attend the School of Mines, also in Port Pirie.
Following his father’s untimely death, John’s mother Elizabeth moved the family to Adelaide where he gained employment as an apprentice cabinet maker with the Mordaunt Manufacturing Company. He also joined the 78th Infantry (Adelaide Rifles) Regiment, serving part-time until the First World War began.
O’Connell enlisted for service in the Australian Imperial Force at Oaklands on 11 December 1914. After initial training, he was allotted to the 3rd reinforcements to the 10th Battalion. Along with the other men in his reinforcement draft, he was sent to Melbourne, where on 19 February 1915, he embarked aboard the transport ship Runic bound for Egypt.
O’Connell had a brief stay in Egypt, as the Gallipoli campaign had begun. The 10th Battalion had been amongst the first ashore and suffered heavy casualties.
He arrived on Gallipoli on 7 May and immediately joined the 10th Battalion. He saw his first major action a few weeks later when Ottoman forces launched a massive counter-attack on the Australian line in an attempt to overwhelm the small beachhead. The Australians held firm, repulsing the Ottomans who suffered heavy losses.
In early July, the much-reduced 10th Battalion was given several days rest on Imbros Island before returning to the battlefield. The battalion then spent the remainder of the campaign in positions around Silt Spur at the southern end of the Anzac perimeter. In late November, it was withdrawn to Lemnos, returning to Egypt at the end of December.
Over the next several months, the battalion was able to rest, train, and take on new reinforcements. In late March, O’Connell was promoted to lance corporal, and days later the battalion sailed for France.
By late April, the battalion had been introduced to the Western Front in the “Nursery Sector” near Armentières. At the beginning of July, the men marched south to the Somme.
A few weeks later, resting in the town of Herissart, O’Connell wrote what was very likely his last letter home:
Dear Mother, sisters, brothers, and Auntie Kate,
As we are about to go into work that must be done, I want to ask you, if anything happens to me, not to worry … One thing you can say - that you lost one doing his little bit for a good cause … I am willing and prepared to give my life … My health is good and my mind is clear.
The 10th Battalion went into the battle of Pozières in the early hours of 23 July. The battalion suffered heavy casualties. Amongst the fallen was O’Connell, whose remains could not be located after the battle. He was 21 years old.
Today his name is commemorated amongst the missing on the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.
His 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 Lance Corporal Michael John O’Connell, 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 (577) Lance Corporal Michael John O’Connell, 10th Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)