The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (53) Private Herbert Byrne, 39th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2017.1.326
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 22 November 2017
Access Open
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

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 (53) Private Herbert Byrne, 39th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

53 Private Herbert Byrne, 39th Battalion, AIF
KIA 22 November 1917

Story delivered 22 November 2017

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Herbert Byrne.

Fondly known as “Herb”, Herbert Byrne was born in 1886 in Gymbowen, Victoria, to James and Mary Byrne. Herbert and his twin brother, Walter, were the 9th and 10th children born to the couple. The 11th child was a daughter born three years later, soon after which, the family moved to a property near Hopetoun.

Herbert and Walter attended Hopevale State School, before working as farm hands in the region.

Walter enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1915, serving with the 23rd Battalion on Gallipoli and at the Western Front. Herbert followed his brother’s example on 1 April 1916, enlisting at Ararat, and being posted to the 39th Battalion, which had just been raised at the Ballarat Showgrounds. He was given the regimental number 53 and posted to 4 Platoon, A Company.

After a period of training in Ballarat, the battalion left for Melbourne in early May, and on the 15th, the men of the battalion marched through the city. About a fortnight later, they embarked from Melbourne aboard the transport ship Ascanius, bound for England.
After four months training at Salisbury Plain, Byrne and his battalion sailed for France in late November, entering the front line for the first time at Houplines near Armentières. That month, the battalion repelled a minor German trench raid and, while out of the line, was involved in carrying and work parties.

The 39th Battalion saw its first major action at Messines in June 1917. However, Byrne and a number of other men did not reach the start line. As the battalion moved up in the early hours of 7 June, the Germans launched a gas bombardment, which caused over two thirds of the battalion to become casualties.

Byrne was evacuated to the 47th General Hospital at Le Treport where he remained until the end of June. He spent the next two months at Etaples before rejoining his unit on 1 September. In early October, Byrne took part in the Allies’ successful attack on Broodseinde Ridge. Eight days later, A Company, including Byrne, was detached from the battalion as working parties. The other three companies were involved in the disastrous attack near Poelcapelle.

On 22 November, the 39th Battalion returned to the front line opposite Warneton. That evening, as the battalion was shelled by the Germans, the post occupied by Byrne and two other men took a direct hit. One man survived, but Byrne and another man were killed.
Byrne’s body was buried in the Rosenberg Cemetery the following day, but was later reinterred at the Berks Cemetery Extension at Ploegsteert.

He was 31 years old.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among almost 62,000 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 Herbert Byrne, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Michael Kelly
Historian, Military History Section

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