The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (2674) Private Stephen Bernard Woodbury, 37th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.102
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 12 April 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
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 Chirs Widenbar, the story for this day was on (2674) Private Stephen Bernard Woodbury, 37th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

2674 Private Stephen Bernard Woodbury, 37th Battalion, AIF
KIA 31 July 1917

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Stephen Bernard Woodbury.

Stephen Woodbury was born in Spencer, on the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney, in 1894. He was one of 11 children born to Austin and Margaret Woodbury, their third eldest son. Stephen attended the local state school at Spencer, and worked as an orchardist in the region.

Stephen Woodbury enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force on 3 October 1916 at Victoria Barracks in Sydney. Just over a month later he embarked from Sydney aboard the HMAT Benalla. He arrived in England in early January 1917, and spent the next four months training for battle on the Western Front.

Woodbury left for the Western Front on early May 1917, but immediately after arriving in France was hospitalised with an unknown illness. He spent nine days in hospital and almost a full month recovering in a convalescent depot.

On 13 June 1917, Woodbury was well enough to join the 37th Battalion, which was stationed in the Ypres region of Belgium. A day later, he was transferred into the 10th Australian Light Trench Mortar Battery, which was attached to the 10th Brigade. Trench mortar batteries gave direct close range artillery support to their brigade, and Stephen would have spent his time close to the front line and within range of direct German attack. Stephen and his team used a Stokes three-inch mortar, capable of firing cylindrical bombs in rapid succession, which was useful in supporting infantry attacks.

On 31 July 1917 units from the 10th Brigade made an attack on German lines near Gapaard, to the north of Ypres. Woodbury and the 10th Light Trench Mortar battery were to provide artillery support to the operation by targeting German front-line strong points and machine-gun posts. Artillery support from trench mortars often attracted heavy enemy fire because of their proximity to the front line attack. At 2.15 pm, Stephen was struck by a direct hit from a German shell and killed instantly. He was 23 years old. He had been at the front for less than seven weeks.

His comrades buried him where he fell and marked his grave. However, due to the chaotic nature of the subsequent fighting the exact location of his body was never found. A newspaper back home wrote that, “News of his death cast a gloom over the district, where he was held in the highest esteem by all who knew him”. His family spent years after the war trying to find out the particulars of his death and to locate his grave. As late as 1926, nine years after the death of his son, Stephen’s father wrote to Commonwealth authorities seeking information as to where his boy might be buried so that a relative visiting Europe might visit and pay their respects.

Stephen Woodbury’s grave, however, was never found. Today his name is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres, where the names of 55,000 Commonwealth soldiers who have no known grave are recorded.

Private Stephen Bernard Woodbury 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 Stephen Bernard Woodbury, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

David Sutton
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (2674) Private Stephen Bernard Woodbury, 37th Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)