The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX32772) Signaller Maxwell Alfred William Benoit MM, 8 Division Signals, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.308
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 4 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 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 Joanne Smedley, the story for this day was on (VX32772) Signaller Maxwell Alfred William Benoit MM, 8 Division Signals, Second World War.

Speech transcript

VX32772 Signaller Maxwell Alfred William Benoit MM, 8 Division Signals
DOD 24 May 1943

Today we remember and pay tribute to Signaller Maxwell Alfred William Benoit.

Maxwell Benoit was born on 26 September 1919 in Ballarat, Victoria, the son of Edmund and Elizabeth Benoit. Maxwell’s father died at a young age, when Max was ten years old. His mother later remarried and took the surname of Redding.

Maxwell Benoit went on to work as an electrical testman, until he enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force on 5 June 1940, a few months before his 21st birthday, at the Town Hall in Melbourne.

Given his trade knowledge, Benoit was a perfect fit for signals. After some initial training he was posted to 8th Division Signals, embarking for overseas service on 2 February 1941, and arriving in Singapore a few weeks later.
Late in the month, Benoit was found absent without leave at Kuala Lumpur and was confined to barracks for two days as punishment. This started a pattern of discipline that would continue throughout the year.

Benoit was again confined to barracks in April, this time for squatting on the ground while on sentry duty. In July he was found absent without leave, having broken out of camp and failed to appear at the evening tattoo roll call. On this occasion he was confined to barracks for two weeks and fined. In November he was confined to barracks for three days after being found guilty of neglecting to obey routine orders.

With the Japanese quickly advancing down the Malayan peninsula, parts of the 8th Division went into action for the first time in January 1942. The 2/29th Battalion was detached to assist an Indian brigade, and became cut off after heavy fighting, so the 2/19th Battalion was sent to assist. After fighting to regain contact with the Indians, the 2/19th began a fighting withdrawal towards the bridge at Parit Sulong. Arriving at the bridge, they found that it was firmly held by the Japanese.

Benoit was a member of a three-man wireless detachment which had gone forward to re-establish the situation before the group was overwhelmed. For five days Benoit and his comrades were exposed to enemy fire and air attack. One was killed; Benoit was wounded three times and was suffering, but remained at his post, maintaining communication with Force Headquarters.

During the attack, the transmission set that the group was using was wrecked, so they improvised another out of broken parts, reportedly tapping two wires together to communicate using Morse code. When two shells fell near their wireless truck and damaged the set beyond repair, they destroyed the equipment.

By now the situation was desperate. Five trucks containing the wounded, and clearly marked with the Red Cross, were sent to try to pass Japanese positions. The driver of the truck asked for the wounded to be allowed to pass, but the Japanese officer in charge demanded unconditional surrender. This was refused, but the officer allowed the wounded to return to camp.

Fearing that the delay would prove too costly, the most seriously wounded were put in an ambulance with a volunteer driver and sent to cross the bridge at high speed. As it reached the other side of the bridge the enemy machine-gunned the ambulance, killing the driver, and the truck overturned in a ditch.

With no hope of escape, the Allied force destroyed its vehicles and heavy equipment, left the remaining wounded to await medical attention from the Japanese. The other men formed small groups to avoid enemy positions, marching through the jungle to find Allied lines to the south. Maxwell and another signaller became separated from the party, and were listed as missing in action, but finally appeared around three days later.

Benoit was awarded a Military Medal for his action, but would not live to receive it in person. With the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, Benoit became a prisoner of war. Initially confined at Changi, he was eventually assigned to F Force, one of the last labour forces to leave Changi in mid-April 1943.

Many of the men were unwell before they left Singapore. Isolated in far up-country Thailand, remote from food and medical supplies, and drenched by monsoonal rains, almost a third of the Australians and two-thirds of the British prisoners would die.

F Force's hardships began when they were sent to Thailand by train. Packed into suffocating metal railway trucks with little food and water, those suffering from dysentery had few opportunities to relieve themselves. After reaching Bampong in Thailand, F Force would be forced to march over 300 kilometres to camps near the border with Burma (today’s Myanmar).

Benoit and two other men, Lance Corporal Clement Miller and Signalman Eric Symons, planned to escape from a camp at Tiamonta around 2 May 1943. A survivor later recalled that Benoit thought he had “at least a fifty-fifty chance of getting through” to India, and knew that he was likely to be shot if recaptured. None of the men were seen again.

There were later reports that they had been executed, and family rumours held that Benoit had been beheaded – but without firm evidence, all that could be done was to declare the three men presumed dead.

Today, Maxwell Benoit is commemorated at the Singapore Memorial in Kranji War Cemetery, which bears the names of more than 24,000 casualties of the Commonwealth land and air forces who died during the campaigns in Malaya and Indonesia, or in subsequent captivity, and have no known grave.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 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 Signaller Maxwell Alfred William Benoit, 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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