The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX39736) Private Brian Alexander Evelyn Haley, 2/21st Australian Infantry Battalion, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.307
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 3 November 2018
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
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 Michael Kelly, the story for this day was on (VX39736) Private Brian Alexander Evelyn Haley, 2/21st Australian Infantry Battalion, Second World War.

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Speech transcript

VX39736 Private Brian Alexander Evelyn Haley, 2/21st Australian Infantry Battalion
Died of illness 1 July 1945
No photograph in collection

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Brian Alexander Evelyn Haley.

Brian Haley was born on 4 August 1914 in Sydney to the large family of Evelyn and Gwladys Haley. He attended Wimbledon Public School, All Saints College in Bathurst, and Geelong College. When he finished school, he returned home to work on the family farm in Fitzgeralds Valley, New South Wales.

Brian Haley was a keen cricketer, and used to drive the local team to matches at Carcoar, Hobby’s Yards, and Georges Plains in a truck.

On 17 February 1941, Haley enlisted in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force at Royal Park, Victoria, joining the 2/21st Battalion.

After training in Bonegilla, near Wodonga on the New South Wales-Victoria border, the battalion was moved to Darwin, arriving there in early April. Its nine-month stay was not a happy one and the primitive amenities, isolation, and mundane garrison duties lowered morale. Operational training continued but was impeded by a shortage of equipment, supplies, and ammunition, as well as the demands of other duties.

On 8 December news of long-expected Japanese attacks arrived and five days later the battalion was on its way to Ambon to join “Gull Force”. Gull Force wasn’t adequately prepared for the Japanese invasion. After three battalions of Japanese infantry and a battalion of marines landed on the night of 30 January 1942, Dutch forces surrendered within 24 hours. Despite instances of brave, determined resistance, the 2/21st could not hold back the Japanese. On 2 February B and C Companies were massacred around Laha Airfield. The remainder of the battalion surrendered on 3 February and were imprisoned at their former barracks near Ambon town.

Conditions for the prisoners on Ambon were harsh, and they suffered the highest death rate of any Australian prisoners of war. Japanese treatment worsened after a successful escape was made by a small party of Australians in March 1942, and command of the camp was taken over by Japanese marines in mid-1942.

The rates of illness and death among the Australians on Ambon progressively rose, and from late 1944 the Japanese interpreter controlling the camp introduced a crippling work regime known as “the Long Carry” – emaciated prisoners were forced to carry heavy bags of cement and bombs between villages along precipitous jungle paths — all, it seemed, to no purpose.

With food being reduced to starvation levels the death toll soared. It was one of the highest death tolls that Australians experienced in captivity.

Among the dead was Private Brian Haley, who reportedly died of beri beri on 1 July 1945.

He was 31 years old.

Today his remains lie at Ambon War Cemetery.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second 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 Brian Alexander Evelyn Haley, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Duncan Beard
Editor, Military History Section

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