The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1310) Private Walter James Stafford, 5th Australian Machine Gun Company, AIF, First World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2017.1.355
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 21 December 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
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 Mathew Rose, the story for this day was on (1310) Private Walter James Stafford, 5th Australian Machine Gun Company, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

1310 Private Walter James Stafford, 5th Australian Machine Gun Company, AIF
KIA 6 May 1916

Story delivered 21 December 2017

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Walter James Stafford.

Known as “Jim”, Walter Stafford was born near Gunnedah in 1894. His mother died in 1907, when he was around 13 years old. He attended the local Gunnedah public school, and went on to become a blacksmith.

In March 1915 Stafford enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, naming his brother Edward as his next of kin. He was posted to the 19th Battalion, and after a period of training in Australia, left for active service overseas in June 1915 on board the troopship Ceramic.

It is likely that Private Stafford served for at least some weeks on Gallipoli. Following the evacuation at the end of 1915, the AIF underwent a period of reorganisation and expansion in Egypt. Stafford was transferred to the 5th Machine Gun Company and went through machine-gun training before being sent to France to fight on the Western Front.

In early May 1916 the 5th Machine Gun Company was in a quiet sector of the front line near Bois Grenier. Stafford was manning his gun when a heavy German artillery barrage came down. A chance shell scored a direct hit on Stafford’s gun, killing him and two others instantly. His friend Private Victor Thompson wrote to Walter’s brother Edward to tell him, “[he] died a real hero, his hands holding to the handles of the machine gun. No one could die a soldier’s death better than being at his post to the last moment. We mourn his loss, and such soldiers as he the King and country are proud of.”

Private Stafford’s commanding officer also wrote to Edward to express his sympathy. He wrote, “I had the highest opinion of [his] qualities as a machine gunner, and, much more important, as a man … Though sad for you, this is another example of the devotion to their country of our soldiers, and I can only offer you my sincere sympathy.”

Private Walter Stafford was buried near where he fell. His brother chose an epitaph that read:
In the dawn of a splendid manhood
When the tide of his youth ran high
With courage and hope in his bearing
He waved us a last goodbye.

Sadly, this was too long for the standard headstone, and Edward did not reply to requests for a shorter one. Today Walter Stafford is buried in the Brewery Orchard Cemetery at Bois Grenier in France.

He was 22 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 Walter James Stafford, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Unit

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