The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (2430) Private John Johnston, 11th Australian Light Horse Regiment, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.87
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 28 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 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 Sharon Bown, the story for this day was on (2430) Private John Johnston, 11th Australian Light Horse Regiment, AIF, First World War.

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Speech transcript

2430 Private John Johnston, 11th Australian Light Horse Regiment, AIF
Died of wounds 1 June 1918

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private John Johnston.

John Johnston was born in Boulia in Central West Queensland in April 1891, the son of George Michael and Lucy Agnes Johnston.
Known as “Jack”, he worked as a station hand at Oondoona Station, near Winton in Central West Queensland.

Winton was the home to numerous sheep and cattle raising stations, including Bladensburg Station, which housed the infamous “Skull Hole”, containing the skulls of Koa people killed during the Mistake Creek massacre.

According to reports, the massacre occurred in the 1870s after Winton Police Station’s Sergeant Moran set out to find those responsible for murdering a European. After he was attacked, black troopers undertook mass killings of the Koa people of the area.

A visiting Norwegian scientist Carl Lumholtz recalled that he had been shown “a large number of skulls of natives who had been shot by the black police”. How many of the Koa people died is unknown: there were estimates around 200, and a contemporary report said that “nearly the whole tribe was killed”.

By the 1900s, many local Indigenous people were employed in the area. Johnston worked at Oondoona Station while his mother was at Spring Vale Station.

On 8 October 1917, John Johnston was among a group of Indigenous recruits accepted for service, becoming reinforcements for the 11th Light Horse Regiment.

Because of the large number of Aboriginal stockmen who enlisted in the 11th Light Horse, it became known as the “Queensland Black Watch”.

Johnston had attempted to enlist earlier, but had been refused on the basis of his Aboriginal heritage.

At the beginning of the First World War, the Defence Act specifically exempted those “not of substantial European descent” from service in the Australian Imperial Force, and recruiting guidelines stated that “Aboriginals, half-castes or men with Asiatic blood” were not to be enlisted. But some army recruiters chose to ignore this rule; for them, a potential soldier was a potential soldier, regardless of the colour of his skin. From 1917, the enlistment rules conceded that half-castes could be enlisted if recruiters were satisfied that one parent was European.

Because of the potential difficulties in enlisting, many Indigenous recruits made multiple attempts, travelling to other recruiting offices if rejected.

Over 1,000 Indigenous soldiers served in the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War, around 147 of whom made the ultimate sacrifice. We now know of at least 70 Aboriginal men who served at Gallipoli, 13 of whom were killed in action.

In the AIF, everyone was paid the same, and the pay was good. As well as the allure of travel and adventure, soldiers could send money home to needy families. Another motive for enlisting was the warrior tradition: many enlistees were only a generation away from traditional life, and took part in the tradition of protecting Country.

After training at Enoggera Camp, Brisbane, Johnston and his mates embarked from Sydney on board the troopship Ulysses, arriving in Egypt in January 1918. Conditions on the voyage were rough. On arrival Johnston was amongst a group sent to the isolation camp at Moascar having been infected with measles during the voyage.

Arriving in Palestine, the conditions didn’t get much better. Not long after joining his unit in May 1918, Johnston spent a week in hospital suffering from scabies and lice.

Dealing with difficult conditions would continue to be a part of Johnston’s experience in the Middle East. Light horse regiments fought a mobile war, battling extreme heat, harsh terrain, and water shortages.

Johnston entered an area where fighting had erupted nearly two years earlier over control of the Suez Canal and the Sinai Peninsula. Australian troops had helped to repel Turkish attacks around Gaza and Jerusalem, and by the time he joined his regiment Turkish resistance in southern Palestine had largely collapsed.

The 11th Light Horse had moved into the Jordan Valley where it was defending the crossing points over the Jordan, and where it had been subjected to hostile artillery shelling for around a week.

On the afternoon of 1 June 1918, the enemy again shelled the 11th Light Horse. Johnston was with a group of men leading their horses when he was struck. He was rushed to the nearest field ambulance, but his wounds were mortal, and he died on admission.

John Johnston was initially buried at Jericho Cemetery, but was later interred at the Jerusalem War Cemetery, where his remains lie today beside over 2,400 other allied casualties of the First World War.

Military authorities attempted to contact Johnston’s mother Lucy, who was his nominated next of kin, but were unable to do so. Today, his service medals, commemorative certificates, and plaques remain unclaimed.

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 John Johnston, 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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