The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (2196) Private Alexander Frank Alexander, 34th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.126
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 6 May 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 Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (2196) Private Alexander Frank Alexander, 34th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

2196 Private Alexander Frank Alexander, 34th Battalion, AIF
DOW 6 May 1918

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Alexander Frank Alexander.
Alexander Alexander was born in August 1896 near Shepparton, Victoria, one of 16 children born to James and Mary Anne Alexander. He attended his local state school and later worked as a labourer. When the First World War began he was living in Leeton, New South Wales, with his widower father.

Alexander enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 16 March 1916 at Cootamundra, and would eventually join the 36th Battalion of the 9th Brigade of the 3rd Australian Division. The 36th Battalion had been raised in February 1916, with most of the recruits enlisted from New South Wales Rifle Clubs as a result of the efforts of the New South Wales Minister for Public Information, Ambrose Carmichael. As a result of his recruitment drive, the 36th Battalion became known as “Carmichael’s Thousand”.

In August 1916 Alexander departed on the six-week long journey for Europe aboard the troopship Anchises. He was hospitalised almost immediately after his arrival in England with an illness that severely affected his wartime service. He was rendered unfit for duty three times with illness unrelated to battle during his service in the war.

Alexander’s service was also affected by a number of offences for insubordination and being absent without leave. While in England, he was sentenced to 28 days’ detention on three separate occasions. In June 1917, he departed for mainland Europe and the Western Front, joining the 36th Battalion and Carmichael’s Thousand in July.

Throughout July, August, and September, Alexander experienced the hardships, drudgery, and horrors of trench warfare on the Western Front. His unit spent their time either resting and training behind the front line, or manning the trenches and enduring intermittent German high explosive artillery and gas shelling. On 23 July the 36th Battalion successfully defended the front from a particularly heavy German artillery and infantry attack. On 22 September, Alexander and his comrades were visited and inspected by Field Marshal Douglas Haig, commander of British Forces in the First World War.

The hardships of life as a soldier in the trenches of the Western Front took their toll on many soldiers. In September 1917 Alexander was reported as absent from his unit and he was arrested by military police six weeks later. Military authorities returned him to the 36th Battalion, where he faced a court martial on charges of desertion and being absent without leave. He was cleared of the charge of desertion, but was sentenced for his absenteeism to two years’ hard labour. He spent nearly four months in a military prison in Belgium before the authorities suspended his sentence and allowed him to return to the front, this time to the Somme region of northern France.

He rejoined Carmichael’s Thousand, but six days later transferred to the 34th Battalion, also part of the 9th Brigade. On 5 May 1918, just a week after joining his new unit, Alexander took part in a successful attack on German trenches in the Bray-sur-Somme and Corbie sector of the front near Amiens. The battalion successfully captured a number of German trenches and significant numbers of German prisoners of war and machine-guns. The attack, however, attracted German counter-action in the form of heavy artillery shelling of the forward Australian positions. During this artillery barrage a large shell fragment struck Alexander in the hip and back. He was transferred to the nearby 11th Field Ambulance but died of his wounds. He was 21 years old.
He is buried in the Franvillers Communal Cemetery Extension in France, along with nearly 250 Commonwealth soldier killed in the First World War. His grieving father left the following epitaph on his grave: “Life’s labours nobly done”. His is also the first name listed on the local war memorial of his adopted home town of Leeton in Australia.
Private Alexander Frank Alexander 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 Alexander Frank Alexander, 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 (2196) Private Alexander Frank Alexander, 34th Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)