The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (2165) Company Sergeant Major Thomas James Schmitzer, 30th Battalion, AIF and (4311) Private Lionel Schmitzer, 54th Battalion, AIF DOW, Second World War.

Description

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 , the story for this day was on (2165) Company Sergeant Major Thomas James Schmitzer, 30th Battalion, AIF and (4311) Private Lionel Schmitzer, 54th Battalion, AIF
DOW, Second World War.

Speech transcript

2165 Company Sergeant Major Thomas James Schmitzer, 30th Battalion, AIF
KIA 26 February 1917

4311 Private Lionel Schmitzer, 54th Battalion, AIF
DOW 5 November 1918

Story delivered 26 October 2017

Today we remember and pay tribute to Company Sergeant Major Thomas James Schmitzer and his brother, Private Lionel Schmitzer.

Thomas Schmitzer was born in 1893 to Frederick and Honora Schmitzer of Mitchell’s Island, the largest of several islands in the mouth of the Manning River on the New South Wales mid north coast. Lionel was born three years later.
After being educated locally, Thomas went to work with his father as a farmer, while Lionel went to work as a carpenter.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, Thomas enlisted for service in the Australian Imperial Force at Newcastle in early August 1915. He was allotted to the 3rd reinforcements to the 30th Battalion and after initial training left Sydney for overseas service aboard the transport ship Ballarat on 16 February 1916.

Lionel had a more difficult time of enlisting. His first attempt ended in failure when he was rejected for having a German name. He met with success on 9 October 1915 when he used the alias Jack Edward Smith, and was allotted to the 13th reinforcements to the 1st Battalion. He departed Sydney almost a year later on the 20th of December 1916.
When Lionel arrived in Egypt in February, he found the AIF in the process of expansion and reorganisation, and was transferred to the newly-raised 54th Battalion.

Thomas arrived in Egypt in late March and joined the 30th Battalion on 1 April. While training in Egypt the brothers were able to reunite and spend their off-duty time together.

As part of the 5th Division, the 30th and 54th Battalions sailed to France in June and were immediately sent north to the Armentieres sector.

At the 5th Division’s first action at Fromelles in July, Lionel and the 54th Battalion were in the first wave to make their way into the German trenches.

Thomas, now a lance corporal, also took part in the battle. While the 30th Battalion was initially in a supporting role, it was drawn into the fighting as the tide began to turn against the Australians.

It was the worst 24 hours in Australia’s military history, with 5,533 men killed, wounded, or missing. Amongst the wounded was Lionel, who had been hit in the left thigh by shrapnel and was evacuated to England for treatment and recovery.

The 5th Division was spent as a fighting force and would spend the remainder of 1916 recovering. But the battalions still took their turn manning front-line positions. Thomas was quickly promoted to sergeant, and on New Year’s Day 1917 was promoted to company sergeant major.

Lionel rejoined his battalion in France in September 1916 and would spend the winter months with his battalion rotating in and out of the front lines south of Pozières. The worst European winter in living memory took its toll on Lionel’s health. In December he was evacuated, suffering from influenza and a mild case of trench feet, and sent to England to recover.

In February 1917 the Germans withdrew to their prepared defensive positions known as the Hindenburg Line. Thomas and the 30th Battalion was involved in follow-up operations to harass the Germans. On 24 February, the battalion occupied a German position known as Sunray Trench.
Two days later, two men from the battalion were killed and 10 were wounded. One of those killed was Thomas Schmitzer. He was initially buried where he fell in Sunray Trench but was later reinterred in Bancourt British Cemetery. He was 24 years old.

Further tragedy hit the Schmitzer family in June. A cousin, Charles Schmitzer, was killed serving with the 34th Battalion in the battle of Messines. He was 23 years old.

Lionel Schmitzer returned to France in mid-July 1917 and in September, took part in the 54th Battalion’s successful attack on Polygon Wood before spending the winter months in the Messines sector.

In March 1918, the Germans launched their spring offensive and the Australians were rushed south to defend the vital rail head at Amiens. The 54th Battalion fought a valiant action around Villers-Bretonneux and although its headquarters was wiped out by a German artillery strike, the battalion did not give up the ground they held.
At the end of the August, the battalion were preparing to cross the Somme River when a heavy bombardment caused two casualties. Private Schmitzer received shrapnel wounds to his head, right hand, right buttock and both legs. His right leg had been completely severed by shrapnel.

He was evacuated to the French coast and when his condition stabilised, he was evacuated to England. He was in a dangerously ill condition at Greylingwell War Hospital in Chichester, with his wounds requiring
further surgery. On 5 November, he died of heart failure under anaesthetic.

Schmitzer was laid to rest with full military honours in the Chichester Cemetery on 11 November, the day of the Armistice. He was just 22 years old.

The names Thomas and Lionel Schmitzer are 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 Company Sergeant Major Thomas James Schmitzer, and Private Lionel Schmitzer, who gave their lives for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Michael Kelly
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (2165) Company Sergeant Major Thomas James Schmitzer, 30th Battalion, AIF and (4311) Private Lionel Schmitzer, 54th Battalion, AIF DOW, Second World War. (video)