The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Sergeant Henry Francis Hughes, No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, AIF, First World War.

Place Middle East: Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Marmara, Chanak, Gallipoli Peninsula
Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.364
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 31 December 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
Description

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 Henry Francis Hughes, the story for this day was on Sergeant Henry Francis Hughes, No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

Sergeant Henry Francis Hughes, No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, AIF
KIA 17 December 1917
Story delivered 31 December 2018

Today we remember and pay tribute to Sergeant Henry Francis Hughes.

Henry Hughes was born in the inner Melbourne suburb of Prahran. After working as a civil servant he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in August 1916 at the age of 26, and joined the Australian Flying Corps. He had spent a couple of years in the senior cadets, and then a year in the Citizen Military Forces, and must have been comfortable with military life. He performed well, and in February 1917 volunteered for further training as an air gunner. Promoted to sergeant in August, after completing courses in Britain he returned to No. 3 Squadron in France on 10 December 1917, qualified for his new duties. Apart from a few brief practice trips over the next few days, it was all the preparation he would get.

On 17 December 1917, Hughes made his first operational flight, joining pilot Lieutenant James Sandy. Sandy had enlisted early in the war, sailing in the first convoy to Egypt and serving on the Gallipoli Peninsula as an original member of the 1st Field Artillery Brigade. Sandy’s time with the artillery was cut short when he contracted blood poisoning after an operation for haemorrhoids, causing an infection that damaged his ankle, which prevented him from running or walking for long distances. Recommended for discharge, Sandy instead joined the Flying Corps, eventually becoming the Deputy Flight Commander of A Flight of No. 69 Squadron.

Flying a British two-seat biplane known as an RE8 over the battlefield, Hughes and Sandy were ranging an 8-inch howitzer for the 151 British Siege Battery when their aircraft was attacked by six German Albatros scouts. These were faster and more nimble than the RE8, and each carried a pair of forward-firing machine guns. Against the odds, Sandy and Hughes managed to defend themselves.

With Hughes manning a Lewis machine-gun in the rear while Sandy controlled a forward-firing Vickers machine-gun, they brought one of the German aircraft down, forcing it to land in the lines of the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion, where the pilot was captured.

Seeing that Sandy and Hughes were outnumbered and in trouble, another two RE8s from the squadron came to their aid before the remaining German aircraft retired. Captain Jones flew close to the aircraft containing Sandy and Hughes, and, seeing that it was cruising normally, assumed that they were going to continue their work spotting.

But radio contact with the aircraft ceased, and it could not be found in its allotted area. The squadron tried to trace the aircraft and its crew without success – until they learnt that it had come down 75 kilometres away.

A postmortem later revealed that in the last seconds of battle a single armour-piercing bullet had passed through Sergeant Hughes’s lung before going into the base of Sandy’s skull, killing them both instantly. The aircraft was at full throttle and continued to fly until it ran out of fuel and came down without further injuring either man.

James Sandy and Henry Hughes were buried in the Saint Pol Communal Cemetery Extension. While they were missing, Sandy had been recommended for the Military Cross, and Hughes for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but the recommendations could not be posthumously approved. The Albatros that they forced down behind the Australian lines was salvaged, and today it can be seen in Aircraft Hall here at the Australian War Memorial.

Henry Hughes was 28 years old at time of death.

His name 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 Lieutenant James Sandy and Sergeant Henry Hughes, who gave their lives for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Duncan Beard
Editor, Military History Section

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