The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (6414) Private William Knowles, 21st Battalion, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2017.1.235
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 23 August 2017
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 Chris Widenbar, the story for this day was on (6.414) Private William Knowles, 21st Battalion, First World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

6 414 Private William Knowles, 21st Battalion
KIA 9 October 1917

Story delivered 23 August 2017

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private William Walter Knowles.

William Knowles was born in 1874 and was the youngest of nine children of John and Ellen Knowles of Stawell in north-western Victoria. Little is known of William’s early life. He likely attended state school in Stawell before working as a labourer in the years before the war, most likely in one of the area’s alluvial gold mines.

William Knowles enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in September 1916, several months short of his 41st birthday. By then, the strict recruiting standards for entry in the Australian forces had been relaxed to accept men up to the age of 45 in order to meet the reinforcement quotas destined for the fighting on the Western Front. After a period of training at Royal Park in Melbourne, Knowles embarked for England with reinforcements for the 21st Battalion in November 1916. After a period of training on the Salisbury Plain, he sailed for France in May 1917. Knowles joined the battalion as it came out of the line near Bullecourt where it was involved in bitter fighting that had cost the battalion some 250 casualties in just a few days.

The 21st Battalion spent the following months training in preparation for offensive operations in Belgium. Knowles participated in his first major attack at Broodseinde on 4 October 1917, where the 21st advanced behind a creeping barrage, overcame a number of German positions, and took its objectives amid heavy enemy fire. The battalion spent the following days consolidating in preparation for the advance towards Passchendaele. This next attack took place at Poelcapelle on 9 October 1917 amid torrential rain, little artillery support, and heavy and accurate German machine-gun and rifle fire. It was both costly and unsuccessful, resulting in the 21st Battalion losing some 200 casualties.

Among the dead was William Knowles, whose body was never recovered from the battlefield.

Aged 41 at the time of his death, his name is listed on the Menin Gate Memorial in nearby Ypres alongside 6,187 Australians who died in Belgium and have no known grave.

On the anniversary of his death in 1918, Knowles’s sister inserted the following epitaph in the local newspaper:
For King and Country called him,
The call was not in vain;
On Australia’ Roll of Honour
You will find my brother’s name.

William Knowles 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 Walter Knowles, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Aaron Pegram
Historian, Military History Section

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