The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (3508) Private James Ailes, 29th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, first World War.

Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.244
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 1 September 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 Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (3508) Private James Ailes, 29th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, first World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

3508 Private James Ailes, 29th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF
KIA 23 March 1917
Story delivered 1 September 2018

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private James Ailes.

James Ailes was born in 1891 in Williamstown, Victoria, the eldest son of James and Blanche Ailes. Known as “Jim” to his friends and family, he attended North Williamstown State School. After leaving school, he worked as a stevedore on the docks at Williamstown.

In early 1916, Ailes enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at the Melbourne Town Hall. He joined the 29th Australian Infantry Brigade and trained in Victoria for several months. In August, he embarked for England on board the transport ship Orsova, arriving there in mid-September. In England, he undertook further training before sailing to France in December. Soon after his arrival in France, though, he was sent to hospital with a suspected case of mumps.

Ailes recovered in hospital until the middle of January. When he joined his battalion in the field, they were emerging from an extremely severe winter. As the weather warmed up, the Australians and British realised that there had been movement in the enemy lines.

During 1916, German forces had suffered heavy losses on the Somme sector of the Western Front in northern France. At the end of winter in early 1917, the German forces in France made a deliberate withdrawal from their front lines to a strongly defended position called the Siegfried Line. Known as the Hindenburg Line to the British, this position allowed the Germans to shorten their line and concentrate their forces.

Discovering that the Germans had retreated, Australian and British forces moved forward and occupied several French towns and villages during March 1917. One of these was the small village of Beaumetz, which was occupied by Ailes and the men of the 29th Battalion.

During their withdrawal, the Germans made defensive stands at selected points. Early on the morning of 23 March 1917, German forces attacked Beaumetz, and Ailes was killed in the fighting. He was 25 years old.

Ailes was buried at Beaumetz Cross Roads Cemetery in France, alongside more than 250 soldiers of the First World War. His mother had his headstone inscribed with the words: “As long as life and memory last, we will always remember thee”.

In Australia, Ailes was survived by his parents and his younger brother Robert. His family had a poem inserted in the local newspaper one year after he died. In part, it read:
You are always in my thoughts dear Jim,
It is sweet to speak your name;
In life I loved you dearly,
In death I do the same.

Private James Ailes 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 James Ailes, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Thomas Rogers
Historian, Military History Section

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