The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1310) Private Walter James Stafford, 5th Australian Machine Gun Company, AIF, First World War.

Place Europe: France
Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.68
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 9 March 2019
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

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 (1310) Private Walter James Stafford, 5th Australian Machine Gun Company, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

1310 Private Walter James Stafford, 5th Australian Machine Gun Company, AIF
KIA 6 May 1916

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Walter James Stafford.

Walter Stafford – commonly known as “Jim” - was born near Gunnedah in 1894 to Joseph Cain, a Gamilaroi man and Susan Stafford, a Darug woman. His mother died in 1907 when he was around 12 or 13 years old. Jim attended the local Gunnedah public school, and went on to become a blacksmith.

In March 1915 Jim Stafford enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, naming his brother Edward as his next of kin. He was posted to the 19th Battalion, and after a period of training in Australia, left for active service overseas in June 1915 on board the troopship Ceramic.

It is likely that Private Stafford served for at least some weeks on Gallipoli, although his service record is unclear on the matter. Following the evacuation at the end of 1915, the AIF underwent a period of training and reorganisation in Egypt. As a part of this process, Private Stafford transferred to the 5th Machine Gun Company and undertook specialist machine-gun training. From there he was sent to France to fight on the Western Front.

In early May 1916 the 5th Machine Gun Company was in a quiet sector of the front line near Bois Grenier. At about 9 o’clock Stafford was manning his gun when a heavy German artillery barrage came down. A chance shell scored a direct hit on Stafford’s gun, killing him and two others instantly. His old friend Private Victor Thompson, wrote to Jim’s brother Edward to say “Jim … died a real hero, his hands holding to the handles of the machine gun. No one could die a soldier’s death better than being at his post to the last moment. We mourn his loss, and such soldiers as he the King and country are proud of.”

Private Stafford’s commanding officer also wrote to Edward Stafford to express his sympathy. He wrote, “I had the highest opinion of [Jim’s] qualities as a machine gunner, and, much more important, as a man … Though sad for you, this is another example of the devotion to their country of our soldiers, and I can only offer you my sincere sympathy.”

Private Jim Stafford was buried together with those who died with him nearby. His brother chose an epitaph that read:
In the dawn of a splendid manhood
When the tide of his youth ran high
With courage and hope in his bearing
He waved us a last goodbye.

This was too long for the standard headstone, and Edward did not reply to requests for a shorter one. Today Jim Stafford is buried in the Brewery Orchard Cemetery at Bois Grenier in France. He was 23 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 Walter James Stafford, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section

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