|Last Post film
Australian War Memorial
|Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
|21 September 2017
First World War, 1914-1918
Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
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The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (6347) Private Clifton Percival Smith, 8th 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 Troy Clayton, the story for this day was on (6347) Private Clifton Percival Smith, 8th Battalion, AIF, First World War.Film order form
6347 Private Clifton Percival Smith, 8th Battalion, AIF
KIA 20 September 1917
Story delivered 21 September 2017
Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Clifton Percival Smith.
Known to friends and family as “Cliff”, Clifton Smith was born in 1894 to James and Mary Ann Smith of Corindhap, a small town near Ballarat in Victoria.
He attended the local state school for ten years – according to his father without missing a day – before going on to work as a labourer.
In June 1916, the 22-year-old Smith enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Ballarat. After some initial training, on 11 September he left Melbourne on the troopship Euripides, bound for England, with reinforcements for the 8th Battalion.
The 8th Battalion had been raised in the early days of the war, with recruits mainly coming from rural Victoria. After landing as part of the second wave on Gallipoli and fighting at Lone Pine, the Battalion had returned to Egypt before entering the Western Front, fighting at Pozières and Ypres.
After training in England, Private Smith joined the 8th Battalion in France on the day before Christmas Eve 1916.
The battalion had just returned from the front line during a spell of particularly cold and wet weather. The men were thankful to be at camp, and Christmas puddings had been purchased with money provided by the Comforts Fund.
In January, the battalion trained the new reinforcements at camp, formed a drum and fife band, and began preparing to take over a new sector of the front line. The German army had pulled back to the heavily fortified defences of the Hindenburg Line, and Private Smith was participated in the operations that followed-up the German withdrawal.
The battalion then returned to Belgium to join the great offensive launched to the east of Ypres. By August, conditions on the Western Front had begun to take their toll on Smith’s health, and he spent some time in hospital with scabies.
On 19 September, the 8th Battalion began moving towards their assembly point for a planned attack near Menin Road. Heavy rain had been falling, and the ground was thick with mud, which caused delays and confusion as the battalion overtook and were then held up by the 7th Battalion. Sometime after 3 am the next morning, intermittent shelling from the enemy began. After some coloured flares were spotted in the distance, the 7th Battalion was subjected to extremely heavy shelling. An officer and four men from the 8th Battalion attacked a strong point, taking prisoners and machine-guns. The battalion continued to push forward and taking its objectives. In the early afternoon an allied triplane flying low brought down an enemy aircraft, another was knocked out by machine-gun fire. Artillery fire weakened the German’s resistance and some enemy parties even came forwards to give themselves up.
While the battalion’s success was largely due to artillery support, one 18-pound battery fired short and on an angle throughout the action. According to battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell, “This Battery throughout caused as many casualties as the whole enemy fire”. Despite all attempts, it could not be located, and was still firing when the battalion was relieved.
While it is not certain that Private Smith was killed by errant fire, some of his comrades in the 8th Battalion believed it to be the case.
Private Hearn, who had come from Australia with Smith on the Euripides, saw him killed by a shell in front of Polygon Wood and helped to bury him where he fell. Because of the heavy shell-fire, his grave wasn’t marked, and it was lost during later fighting.
Clifton Smith was 23 years old.
His younger sister, Bertha, then 14 years old, collected the telegram that notified the family of his death from the post office and carried it to her mother. Memories of that delivery have never left her. Clifton had left her his pony to look after while he was away.
In August 1918 Mary Smith wrote to the Defence Department. She had been receiving Ernest’s letters returned to her with “prisoner of war” stamped on them. Desperately hoping that a mistake had been made, she begged to be told that her son was alive.
Clifton Smith’s death was confirmed. Today he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, along with some 6,000 Australian soldiers who died in Belgium and who have no known grave.
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. His photograph is displayed beside the Pool of Reflection.
This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private Clifton Percival Smith, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.
Duncan Beard, Editor
Military History Section
Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (6347) Private Clifton Percival Smith, 8th Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)