The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX4802) Warrant Officer Class I Gordon Wallace Duff 2/3rd Battalion, 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 Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (NX4802) Warrant Officer Class I Gordon Wallace Duff 2/3rd Battalion, Second World War.
NX4802 Warrant Officer Class I Gordon Wallace Duff
KIA 24 October 1942
Story delivered 24 October 2017
Today we remember and pay tribute to Warrant Officer I Gordon Wallace Duff.
Known to friends and family as “Bill”, Gordon Duff was born on 15 February 1915 in the western Sydney suburb of Auburn, one of six children of Alexander and Rose Duff. Alexander Duff worked for many years for the Department of Railways in Sydney and around New South Wales. In 1936, after two years as the station master at Kempsey on the state’s north coast, he transferred to Corrimal, where he became the station master, with his family living in the station residence.
When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Duff was 24 years old, working as labourer, and living in the family home. He volunteered for the Second Australian Imperial Force on the 20th of October, just a few weeks after war had been declared. For an unknown reason, on his attestation papers he stated he was born in Auckland, New Zealand, not Auburn.
Duff joined the 2/3rd Battalion, part of the newly raised 6th Division, when the battalion was formed in Sydney. In January 1940 the division sailed for the Middle East. After a year of hard training, in January 1941 the division spearheaded the British advance from Egypt into Libya, capturing the Italian fortresses of Bardia and Tobruk. Duff must have demonstrated leadership and maturity, as he was promoted to acting corporal in July 1940, and then acting sergeant in January 1941.
In March 1941 the 6th Division began moving from the Western Desert to Greece, where it joined the New Zealand division and British troops. The 2/3rd Battalion arrived in Greece in mid-March, and was sent to the country’s north. The Germans invaded Greece in early April, forcing the Commonwealth and Greek defenders to withdraw. The 2/3rd Battalion was heavily involved in the blocking action at Tempe Gorge (or Pinios) on 18 April, but the campaign ended a week later in defeat and evacuation for the Commonwealth troops.
In June and July the main body of the 2/3rd Battalion fought against the Vichy French in Lebanon during the Syrian campaign. The battalion fought around Damascus, in an unsuccessful effort to secure Jebel Mazar, as well as in the climactic battle of Damour. Having fought in three campaigns, Duff was an experienced combat veteran. He continued to be promoted regularly and was a warrant officer class I by the end of the year.
In 1942 the 6th Division and other elements of the AIF began returning to Australia to face a new enemy – the Japanese. On the way home, the 2/3rd Battalion spent close to three months as part of the force garrisoning Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka).
The battalion returned home in August, but its time on Australian soil was fleeting. Because of the worsening crisis in Papua – where the Japanese were pushing along the Kokoda Trail – elements of the 6th Division, including the 2/3rd Battalion, were sent to Port Moresby in September. With little time to acclimatise, the battalion reinforced the Australian advance along the Kokoda Trail. From 22 October the battalion became involved in a major action at Eora Creek. Fierce fighting continued for days. On 24 October, as Duff was carrying ammunition to a forward rifle company, he was shot and killed by a group of five Japanese soldiers.
Duff was 27 years old. He was subsequently award a Mention in Despatches. He is buried in Bomana War Cemetery, Port Moresby. The epitaph engraved on this tombstone reads simply, “His duty nobly done”.
His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with 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 Warrant Officer I Gordon Wallace Duff, 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 (NX4802) Warrant Officer Class I Gordon Wallace Duff 2/3rd Battalion, Second World War. (video)