The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (77) Sergeant Charles James Backman, 10th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.115
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 25 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

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 Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (77) Sergeant Charles James Backman, 10th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

77 Sergeant Charles James Backman, 10th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF
KIA 25 April 1915

Today we remember and pay tribute to Sergeant Charles James Backman.

Charles Backman was born on 14 April 1884 in Adelaide, the son of Annie and Charles Backman.

He attended Currie Street School in Adelaide, and went on to work as a boilermaker’s assistant with the South Australian Railways.

Known by the nickname “Rappie”, Backman was an outstanding cricket player. He played for South Australia in the 1911 to 1912 Sheffield Shield season, and competed against England in an international match.

Backman was among the first to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force, doing so less than a month after announcement of war. Having had experience in the 10th Australian Infantry Regiment, known as the Adelaide Rifles, he was assigned to the 10th Battalion as a sergeant.

The 10th Battalion was among the first infantry units raised for the war. Recruited from South Australians during August 1914, after completing basic training, the battalion embarked for overseas service in October. After a brief stop in Western Australia, the battalion proceeded to Egypt. In the desert camps outside of Cairo the men trained to meet the threat posed by the Ottoman Empire to British interests in the Middle East and to the Suez Canal.

On 25 April 1915, the 10th Battalion landed at Anzac Cove, ostensibly to assist a British naval operation which aimed to force the Dardanelles Strait and capture the Turkish capital, Constantinople. Forming part of the covering force, the 10th Battalion was amongst the first ashore at around 4:30 am.

Commander Charles Dix, who was in charge of landing the covering force, had sensed that the boats had been off course. As they arrived at the shore he shouted: “Tell the colonel that the damn fools have taken us a mile too far north.”

While the historical record is silent on the exact fate of Charles Backman, Les Carlyon’s exceptional book Gallipoli tells of the experiences of a member of the 10th Battalion, a solicitor from Adelaide, which evokes what Backman may have gone through during the landing.

As the landing force neared the shore “‘bullets started whizzing in all directions’”.

The men crouched low in the boats. Bullets splashed into the water. One clattered into a mess tin on a soldier’s back but no-one in [the] boat was wounded. He started half-swimming and half-wading for the shore. Three times he went right under. He had landed near the centre of Anzac Cove.

“The beach was very rocky and it was not the easiest thing on earth to clamber over big slippery rocks. All this time bullets were whizzing all around us and men were falling here and there. I rushed across the shore to the shelter of a small bank and there shed my pack and fixed my bayonet then straight on to drive the beggars away. The way our chaps went at it was a sight for the gods; no one attempted to fire but we just went straight on up the side of the cliff, pushing our way through thick scrub and often clambering up the steep sides of the cliff on all fours.”
Upon reaching the top of the first ridge, the men came under fire from fleeing Turks on a ridge ahead. Dawn was breaking, and the Turks looked down on the Australians with the sun behind them.

The early clashes at Gallipoli were without pity. Bean reports that an Australian party chased down a group of Turkish coastal sentries. “As the Australians got in among them, the Turks threw down their rifles; but they were too many to capture, and were consequently shot.”

After the first few hours, with the early rushes repulsed, they pushed on. The men of the 10th Battalion would penetrate the furthest inland during the initial fighting. Pushing through scrub full of snipers, small groups of men who had never been under fire before, some with no-one in charge, would stay out there until driven back by the enemy, who attacked in force.

From this point, as Carlyon wrote, Gallipoli “took on the first characteristics of what it was never supposed to be. It began to look like a siege.”

Three days after the landing, a roll-call was undertaken for the 10th Battalion, and Private Backman was reported as wounded and missing.

The lack of news regarding his fate was particularly hard for his family, who wrote desperately seeking information.
His brother wrote to the Minister of Defence in August 1915, desperately hoping for good news:
I sent yesterday to you about my brother … trying to find out news of him. I told you only of letters but today I can tell you of men we have met, returned soldiers that met him there and tell us that my brother was in the hospital in the next bed to one of these men … and another letter I have just got from the hospital states that he is in the hospital with him now.

A letter from one of his sisters reported, “if we do not get news one way or the other I am sure it will kill my Mother as well for it is awful waiting for news and none coming.”
In September 1915 Backman was made a life member of the Adelaide District Cricket Club in honour of his service.
It wasn’t until 5 June 1916 that a court of enquiry pronounced that he had been killed in action.

Charles Backman was 31 years old when he died on the first day of the Gallipoli campaign. Having no marked grave, his name is listed on the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli.
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 Sergeant Charles James Backman, 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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