The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (25946) Gunner Edward May, 1st Field Artillery Brigade, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.228
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 16 August 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 Chris Widenbar, the story for this day was on (25946) Gunner Edward May, 1st Field Artillery Brigade, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

25946 Gunner Edward May, 1st Field Artillery Brigade, AIF
KIA 16 August 1917
Story delivered 16 August 2018

Today we remember and pay tribute to Gunner Edward May.

Edward May was born in 1879, one of seven children of William and Eliza May of Sandringham, now known as Port Melbourne. Known as “Ted” to his family and friends, he attended Nott Street School. As Sandringham was a working-class suburb in the industrial heart of Melbourne, there were no secondary schools. Ted started work as a driver at the Swallow and Ariell’s Biscuit Factory at the age of 12 and remained there for 18 years. He married Georgina Tucker in 1901 and the couple started a family the following year, producing two girls, Evelina and Ada, and three boys, Edward, Robert, and Harry. Ted also spent 12 months in the Victorian Militia Force as an artilleryman, and was heavily involved in the fraternal organisation known as the Protestant Alliance Friendly Society. In 1915, just before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force, he was the president of the Port Melbourne Dispensary where a number of such societies and lodges held regular meetings.

May enlisted in the AIF in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick in February 1916. After a period of training as an artilleryman at the military camp at Maribyrnong, he embarked for the training camps in England as a reinforcement for the 1st Divisional Ammunition Column in August 1916. The role of his unit was to transport and maintain the supply of ammunition to guns of the Field Artillery Brigades that provided the assaulting infantry of the Australian 1st Division with supporting bombardments. After several months on the Salisbury Plain near Wiltshire, May sailed for the fighting on the Western Front in February 1917 and joined the 1st Divisional Ammunition Column in the line near Fricourt on the Somme. Several weeks later, he was transferred to the headquarters staff of the 1st Field Artillery Brigade. In May, he was posted to Number 2 Battery where he worked as a gunner, forming part of a six-man gun team that operated the 18-pound field gun and laid down barrages of shrapnel and high explosive on the German positions.

Over the following weeks, the gunners of the 1st Field Artillery Brigade carried out harassment and interdiction fire on German work parties and strongpoints spotted in the area near Louverval. In early August, the brigade moved north into Belgium and took up positions outside the town of Ypres in preparation for a major offensive being planned in the area. The purpose of the offensive was to break out of the so-called Ypres Salient and drive north towards the village of Passchendaele. By capturing the plateau beyond, the British could easily press on and capture the German submarine pens on the Belgian coastline. In order to soften the German defences in preparation for the infantry assault, the guns of the 1st Field Artillery Brigade took up positions near the village of Zillebeke and began shelling the Germans. The German guns were just as active, sweeping the Zillebeke area with intense shell-fire in an effort to neutralise the Australian guns.

On 16 August 1917, the 1st Field Artillery Brigade fired in support of an attack by British troops who sought to enter the German positions in Polygon Wood. According to eyewitnesses, May was carrying a message to front-line headquarters and was inside a captured German blockhouse when it took a direct hit from a high-explosive artillery shell. The resulting explosion collapsed the concrete structure, killing him instantly. Aged 38 at the time of his death, Edward May was buried where he was killed but his temporary grave was destroyed in subsequent fighting. He is today commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial alongside over 6,000 Australians killed fighting in Belgium who have no known grave.

The historical records do not tell us the impact that his death had on the May family, so we can only imagine the grief they must have felt at losing their devoted husband and father. It is likely that the May family had lost their principle bread-winner, and as such, struggled through the years after his death. On May’s service record is correspondence from the Defence Department in March 1922 to the effect that his wife, Georgina, had “deserted her children” before she remarried the following year. Three of the five May children — Edward, Robert and Harry—, the youngest of which was 12 years old, became wards of the state and went to live at the Melbourne Orphan Asylum at Middle Brighton.

Edward May is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among almost 62,000 Australians who died while serving in the First World War.

His is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Gunner Edward May, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Aaron Pegram
Historian, Military History Section

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