The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1980) Private Thomas Skelly, 54th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.151
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 31 May 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 Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

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 Sharon Bown, the story for this day was on (1980) Private Thomas Skelly, 54th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

1980 Private Thomas Skelly, 54th Battalion, AIF
KIA 1 September 1918
Story delivered 31 May 2018

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Thomas Skelly.

Thomas Skelly was born on 20 May 1880 at Lachlan River, New South Wales, to John and Caroline Skelly.

A Wallabalooa man, he grew up in Nyngan, where he attended the local convent school. By the time the First World War began, Skelly had moved to Dubbo, where he was working as a bookmaker’s clerk and living at Hamer’s Hotel.

Skelly enlisted for service with the Australian Imperial Force at the Dubbo recruiting depot on the 10th of February 1916. After training at Dubbo and then Bathurst, he was allotted to the 3rd reinforcements to the 54th Battalion.

Private Skelly embarked from Sydney with other reinforcements aboard the transport ship Barambah on 23 June 1916. After landing in England, he was sent to the 14th Training Battalion at Lark Hill.

In October Thomas was joined by one of his older brothers, Charles, who arrived with another reinforcement draft for the 54th Battalion. The brothers went absent without leave for two days before being apprehended by military police. Thomas Skelly was given seven days’ detention and fined.

In mid-December Thomas and Charles embarked for service in France. They were taken on strength of the 54th Battalion on Christmas Eve, in the middle of the worst winter in 40 years. Fortunately, the battalion was in rest positions for the Christmas period.

In February 1917, the 54th Battalion was involved in pursuing the German army as it withdrew to the prepared defensive positions known as the Hindenburg Line.

A few months later, Thomas was admitted to the 54th Casualty Clearing Station suffering from rheumatism. He spent several days resting before re-joining his unit in early May.

The Skelly brothers saw their first major action a few days later when the second battle of Bullecourt began. On 15 May, the battalion was in defensive positions and repelled a German attack. Prior to the attack, the battalion’s positions had been heavily shelled, causing severe casualties.

Charles Skelly was wounded by shrapnel in his right arm and leg. He was evacuated to England, and recovered, but was medically downgraded and returned to Australia at the end of 1917 for discharge.

Thomas Skelly remained with the battalion, taking part in major operations at Polygon Wood and Broodseinde Ridge in September and October.

Skelly was sent on some much needed leave to London in January 1918. He had returned to his unit by the time the German Army launched its Spring Offensive in late March. The 54th Battalion, which had been in Belgium, was rushed south to help stop the German drive on Amiens.

Skelly fought in the first battle of Villers-Bretonneux in early April, which saw a successful defence of the town. After the Germans captured the town on 24 April, the 54th Battalion was involved in the counter attack which saw it largely back in Australian hands on Anzac Day 1918.

In July, Skelly was sent to a rest camp for a week as a break from front-line service.

He next saw action when the allies launched their great offensive on 8 August. Although 54th Battalion was not initially involved, by the end of the month it was in position to launch an attack on the medieval town of Peronne.

On the morning of 1 September, the 53rd and 54th Battalions attacked Anvil Wood, one of the key defensive positions in front of Peronne. After capturing the wood, the battalions continued their attack towards the town. As the 54th Battalion neared the town, Skelly was killed instantly by multiple pieces of shrapnel when a high explosive shell burst nearby.

He was buried not far from where he fell, but was later re-interred in the Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension.

At home in Australia, the Dubbo Liberal reported that “news was received in Dubbo on Saturday that another brave Dubbo lad, Private Tom Skelly had made the Great Sacrifice fighting for Freedom and Liberty on the battlefields of France … A fine specimen of Australian manhood, he was a favourite on account of his quiet and unassuming disposition”.

Thomas Skelly was 38 years old.

Another two of his brothers also served during the First World War. Sydney Joseph Skelly, who served as Francis Scully, was killed in January 1917 while serving with the 1st Pioneer Battalion in France. William Skelly, who served in Palestine with the Imperial Camel Corps and Light Horse, returned to Australia in 1919.

Thomas Skelly’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 Private Thomas Skelly, 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 (1980) Private Thomas Skelly, 54th Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)