The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (786 & 683)5 Private George Leopold Harris, 4th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.320
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 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 Troy Clayton, the story for this day was on (786 & 683)5 Private George Leopold Harris, 4th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

786 & 6835 Private George Leopold Harris, 4th Battalion, AIF
DOW 25 March 1919
Story delivered 16 November 2018

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private George Harris.

George Leopold Harris was born in Northampton, England on 7 September 1884, the son of George and Annie Harris. After the death of his parents in 1906 and 1908, Harris and two younger brothers migrated to Australia and settled in Sydney. George was living in Bondi but worked as a bushman and labourer, so it’s likely he spent time in the city and the surrounding countryside. Little else is known of him before the war, but he had not married.

Answering the first call for volunteers following the outbreak of war in August 1914, the 28-year-old Harris joined the Australian Imperial Force the same month. He was allotted to G Company of the 4th Infantry Battalion, mostly recruited in Sydney, and was soon undergoing basic training.

The 4th Battalion left Sydney aboard the troop transport, the Euripides on 20 October. Several weeks later the Australians landed in Egypt, diverted there after Turkey’s entry into the war. Training continued there until the Australians were sent into action at Gallipoli.

Harris landed at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915 and pushed inland with his battalion, reaching Bolton’s Ridge. He may well have been in the ill-fated advance across the 400 Plateau the following day, but suffered a minor wound on the 28th.

Harris remained in the trenches for months with his battalion and survived the bitter fighting at Lone Pine in early August. There, along with others, he was commended for exceptional courage and stamina in holding a forward post during a “furious enemy bombing attack”.

But by the end of the month, like so many others, he was a physical wreck. Rheumatism, exposure, and strain all took their toll and Harris was evacuated to Alexandria in Egypt to recover.

Harris was so ill he was sent home to Australia in October and eventually discharged some months later. But his war was not over. Apparently recovered, he re-enlisted without difficulty on 27 June 1916 and was re-assigned to his old battalion, the 4th.

Harris again departed Sydney in November 1916 with the latest reinforcements for the battalion. After going absent without leave in Durban during the voyage, he arrived in England at the end of January 1917. Possibly frustrated at being held in England and being medically downgraded to light duties, Harris was frequently absent without leave over the next few months and was punished accordingly – a court martial resulting in a heavy fine and 90 days detention.

Finally, after being released from Woking Detention Barracks, Harris was allowed to join his old battalion in Belgium in November 1917. At this time, the 4th had just been through weeks of severe fighting at Passchendaele and were coming out of the line for a well-earned rest. They enjoyed a month away from the guns near the Channel coast, before heading back to the front near Messines. There they stayed throughout the winter, into the spring of 1918.

With preparations for the great German offensive building, artillery fire was beginning to increase once more. On 10 March, Harris was out with a fatigue party when they were hit by heavy shell-fire, killing eight and wounding several others.

Harris was taken to a field hospital with shrapnel wounds to his arm and back, before being evacuated to England. Again at Woking, this time as a hospital patient, Harris slowly recovered as the war ended that November. By the end of 1918, despite complications with the wounds, it appeared he was finally on the mend. But it was not to be. On 23 March 1919, just over a year since being hit in Belgium, Harris was again admitted to hospital in Weymouth with cerebral symptoms resulting from his wounds and died of a blood clot on the brain two days later.

With comrades from the 4th Battalion as pallbearers for his coffin, Harris was buried in Melcombe Regis Cemetery, in Weymouth, Dorset. He was 34 years old.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among more than 60,000 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 George Harris, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Craig Tibbitts
Historian, Military History Section

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