The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (792) Private Wiliam Allan Irwin DCM, 33rd Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.192
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 11 July 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 (792) Private Wiliam Allan Irwin DCM, 33rd Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

792 Private Wiliam Allan Irwin DCM, 33rd Battalion, AIF
DOW 1 September 1918
Story delivered 11 July 2018

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private William Allen Irwin DCM.

William Allen Irwin was born William Allen on 3 July 1878 on Burra Bee Dee Aboriginal Mission Station, in the Piligia region near Coonabarabran, New South Wales. The son of William Allen of the Gomeroi Nation and Eliza Allen, his parents separated when he was young and he remained living with his mother who moved to Moree with William Grose.

Known to family and friends as Bill, he grew up in Moree, where he attended Moree Public School. After leaving school, he worked as a shearer with his brothers, Harry and Jack, in northern New South Wales and Southern Queensland. The brothers were known as gun shearers and had no difficulty in finding work.

The boys took care of their mother with their pay cheques and, as she was a talented musician who composed her own music, they bought her a piano. Sadly, Eliza died from pulmonary tuberculosis on 4 June 1913.

By this time Harry and Jack had both married and started families. Bill was to marry also, but while he and his brothers were away shearing, his fiancé married another man. It is believed that when he found out about the marriage, he became determined to join the AIF. His brothers who were opposed to war tried to dissuade him, but he could not be talked out of the idea.

Using a relative’s surname, Bill Allen enlisted as William Allen Irwin at Narrabri on 3 January 1916. He was sent to the training depot at Armidale where he joined C Company of the newly-raised 33rd Battalion.

Irwin embarked from Sydney with the 33rd Battalion on 4 May aboard the transport ship Marathon, bound for England. After arriving at the beginning of July, the battalion was sent to Lark Hill and spent the next four months training for war on the Western Front.

Irwin went absent without leave at the end of October and again at the beginning of November. His two days off saw him forfeit a month’s pay and subjected to 14 days’ field punishment number two.

On 21 November, the 33rd Battalion left Lark Hill and sailed for France. After disembarking at Le Havre the following morning, the battalion was moved to the “nursery sector”, a relatively quiet area of the front where new units learnt the rigours of trench warfare. Five days later, the battalion entered the front line for the first time at Chapelle d’Armentieres.

Irwin and his mates endured the terrible winter of 1916 and 1917 rotating between the front line, supports, and rear area.

In May 1917 Irwin received two bruised ribs while training and was sent to a rest camp for two weeks to recuperate. He returned just in time to take part in his battalion’s first battle.

The 33rd Battalion had its baptism of fire in early June at the battle of Messines. It was in the vanguard of the assault and swiftly captured its objective. During the attack, Irwin received a shrapnel wound to his right buttock and was evacuated to England to recover.

In mid-September, Irwin was sent to Bulford Hospital after developing a dermatological condition. He returned to the convalescent depot at Parkhouse in mid-October. After several weeks training, he returned to France and rejoined the 33rd Battalion at the end of November.

Following the start of the German Spring Offensive in March 1918, the 33rd Battalion was involved in recapturing Hangard Wood at the end of the month. Only five days later, the battalion was part of the successful defence of Villers-Bretonneux, which blunted the German drive towards Amiens. During the fighting, Irwin was wounded for a second time, receiving a bullet wound to his right arm. He was once again evacuated to England for treatment and recovery.

Irwin was back with the 33rd Battalion in June and was next involved in the battle of Amiens on 8 August, which Erich Ludendorff called the “Black day of the German Army.”

A series of advances followed and by the end of the month, the 33rd Battalion was, as part of the battle of Mont St Quentin, tasked with capturing Road Wood. Early in the advance, the men of the 33rd were pinned down by machine-guns from the wood and the advance was held up.

It was at this time that Private George Cartwright performed the action that would see him awarded the Victoria Cross, charging one of the machine guns, and capturing it along with nine prisoners.

With several more machine guns continuing to hold up the advance, Bill Irwin acted. The citation for his posthumously awarded Distinguished Conduct Medal reads:

For most distinguished gallantry and devotion to duty during the operations at ROAD WOOD on August 31st 1918.

Single handed and in the face of extremely heavy fire Private Irwin rushed three separate machine gun posts and captured the three guns and crews. It was while rushing a fourth machine gun that he was severely wounded.

On his irresistible dash and magnificent gallantry this man materially assisted our advance through this strongly held and defended wood; and by his daring actions he greatly inspired the whole of his company.

Sadly, his wounds were mortal. He was taken to the 61st Casualty Clearing Station at Daours, where he died from his wounds the following morning. He was laid to rest in the Daours Communal Cemetery the same day. He was 40 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 William Allen Irwin DCM, 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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