The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (6537) Corporal William Hawden Ayliffe, 50th Battalion, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.114
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 24 April 2018
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 Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (6537) Corporal William Hawden Ayliffe, 50th Battalion, First World War.

Speech transcript

6537 Corporal William Hawden Ayliffe, 50th Battalion
KIA 25 April 1918
Story delivered 24 April 2018

Today we remember and pay tribute to Corporal William Hawden Ayliffe.

William Ayliffe was born on 9 June 1892 at Permanoota Station, near Broken Hill, New South Wales, to Frank and Elizabeth Ayliffe. He was one of five surviving children and the second of three sons born to the couple.

Frank’s work for the Zinc Corporation took the family to Myponga in South Australia when William was still young. He attended Pulteney Street Church of England School, Adelaide.

William grew to be a tall man, standing at six feet. After leaving school, he went to work as a farmer, working at Kangaroo Island. By the time the First World War began, he had become a station overseer.

Ayliffe attempted to enlist following the outbreak of the First World War, but was rejected on account of having bad teeth. There is no record of him having corrective treatment, but on his second attempt to enlist, this time on 15 September 1916, he was passed fit and accepted.

On completing his training, he was allotted to the 19th reinforcements to the 27th Battalion. He embarked with other reinforcements from Outer Harbour, Adelaide, aboard the transport ship Miltiades on 24 January 1917.

Arriving in England in late March, he went into camp on the Salisbury Plain, where he trained for several more months in preparation for war on the Western Front.

He was sent to France in late July, but instead of joining the 27th Battalion was instead sent to the 50th Battalion, which joined in Belgium in early August. He had his first experience of the front line at Ploegsteert Wood towards the end of the month.

Ayliffe was promoted to lance corporal in mid-September, and a little over a week later took part in his first major battle at Polygon Wood. The 50th Battalion had been to the right of the wood and taken its objectives.

The battalion returned to the front line on 11 October, taking over positions along the recently captured Broodseinde Ridge. The 50th Battalion spent the next few months rotating between the front line, support trenches, and the rear area. During November, Ayliffe was promoted to corporal.

In late March 1918 the Germans launched their spring offensive on the Western Front. The 50th Battalion was involved in blunting the German advance at Dernancourt, but suffered heavy casualties in doing so.

After failing to capture the town of Villers-Bretonneux in early April, the Germans launched a second attack in the early hours of 24 April and succeeded in capturing the town. They wasted no time in bringing up machin-guns and making strongpoints.

A counter-attack was organised for the following day, but was delayed until nightfall to minimise Australian casualties. At 10pm, the 50th Battalion began its advance south of Villers-Bretonneux. As the advance continued, heavy casualties were inflicted by German artillery and machine-gun fire.

By the time Villers-Bretonneux was made secure on 27 April, the 50th Battalion had suffered 261 casualties.

Among the dead was William Ayliffe, who had been killed during the advance of 25 April. He was 25 years old.

His body was unable to be identified and as a result he has no known grave. Today his name is commemorated on the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

His death was a harsh blow for the Ayliffe family. Their eldest son John, serving as a sergeant in the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, had died of wounds the previous November following the battle for Beersheba. The youngest son in the family, Sergeant Frank Ayliffe returned to Australia in October 1918.

William Ayliffe’s 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 Corporal William Hawden Ayliffe, who gave his life 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 (6537) Corporal William Hawden Ayliffe, 50th Battalion, First World War. (video)