The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1750) Sergeant Joseph Harding, 2nd Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.140
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 20 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

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 Chris Widenbar, the story for this day was on (1750) Sergeant Joseph Harding, 2nd Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

1750 Sergeant Joseph Harding, 2nd Battalion, AIF
DOW 9 April 1917

Today we remember and pay tribute to Sergeant Joseph Harding.
Joseph Harding was born on 15 May 1891, one of four children born to James and Esther Harding in Kent, England. “Joe”, as he was known to family and friends, attended Foster’s School in nearby Welling, and later worked as a labourer at the Royal Arsenal Farm, as a local council worker, and as a horseman. His mother passed away in 1908 when he was 17 years old, and he continued to live with his father in Bexley for several years.

In 1911, Joe Harding decided to start a new life in Australia. Arriving in January 1912, he soon had an opportunity to put his skills as a labourer and horseman to good use, and moved to live on a farm near Boorowa in New South Wales, with some friends from his home country. Harding lived and worked at “Eastvale”, trapping rabbits, clearing land, and working as a farm labourer.

When the First World War began, the lure of the opportunity to serve their home country and adopted land was strong for Harding and his friends on the farm. Samuel Poole, Ralph Brough, Jesse Shaw, and Owen Ibbotson would all serve. Only one would return home. Shaw died in May 1915 from gunshot wounds received on Gallipoli, Poole months later in the brutal Battle of Lone Pine, while Brough survived the war, but died in an institution in 1920.

Joseph Harding enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 28 January 1915, and after a brief period of training sailed from Sydney for Gallipoli, where he arrived in late May. On 10 July his battalion came under Turkish fire and Harding received wounds to his abdomen. The injuries were so severe that he was evacuated from Gallipoli to England for recovery.
He gave his family a great surprise when he arrived to visit them in England, as he had chosen not to tell them of his visit beforehand. He did not return to Gallipoli until late November 1915. His remaining weeks on the peninsula were spent in the freezing cold conditions as Australia evacuated the battlefield and sailed for Egypt.

He arrived in Egypt just after Christmas Day 1915, and proceeded to spend the next few months there as the Australian Imperial Force reformed, expanded, and trained. In a letter to a friend in Australia, he wrote: “We were not sorry to get away from Anzac, for it was like Hell itself … I think it was time we left there, but it was hard to leave all our mates behind after all the trying times we had together”.

It was in Egypt that Harding was to receive the first of his many promotions. In February 1916 he was promoted to lance corporal, in July, when he had arrived at the war on the Western Front, to vice corporal, and in November 1916 to sergeant.

On 4 and 5 September 1916, Harding took part in the action for which he would later receive the prestigious Military Medal. When his battalion came under heavy German mortar fire which buried two men, Harding and two other officers worked for three hours under continuous mortar and shrapnel fire to dig them out and managed to save one of the pair. The next day, the unit again came under similar fire. This time, five officers and ten other ranks were buried by a mortar shell. Harding and the other officers again worked for hours to dig them out in heavy rain, and under constant mortar, shrapnel and sniper fire. The recommendation for Harding’s award recorded that, “all chance of rescue seemed hopeless, but notwithstanding this their efforts were undeterred, and they saved the life of Signaller Hopkins, who was at the bottom of the buried party”.

In December 1916 Harding took a brief period of leave and visited his family in England. This would be the last time he would see them. On 9 April 1917, Harding and the 2nd Battalion were in the Somme region of northern France. At 4.15 am, in cold, windy and snowy conditions, they began an attack on the town of Hermies. During the attack, they encountered heavy machine-gun and rifle fire from numerous German strong points. In heavy fighting they managed to take the German position, but suffered over 180 casualties. Harding was wounded in action and taken to a nearby field hospital, but died of his wounds. He was 25 years old.

He was buried in the Lebucquiere Communal Cemetery Extension in France, where over 750 Commonwealth soldiers of the First World War now lie. His grieving family left the following epitaph on his grave: “Ever in our thoughts”.

Sergeant Joseph Harding 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 Sergeant Joseph Harding, 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 (1750) Sergeant Joseph Harding, 2nd Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)