The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (2367) Private George Robert Aitken, 52nd Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.148
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 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 Greg Kimble, the story for this day was on (2367) Private George Robert Aitken, 52nd Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

2367 Private George Robert Aitken, 52nd Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF
KIA 19 October 1917

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private George Robert Aitken.

George Aitken, of the Waka Waka Nation, was born on 5 November 1893 at Walloon Station, near Taroom in south-east Queensland.

His father was George Richard Aitken, the manager of the diggings at Cania Station, located at nearby Eidsvold, and his mother, known as Princess, was an Aboriginal woman from the Barambah Mission Station.

Barambah had been established by the Salvation Army in the 1870s, but the Queensland Government had taken control in 1905. Conditions were poor, and residents lacked adequate housing, sanitation, education and medical facilities. Epidemics of tuberculosis, whooping cough, dengue fever, and measles were regular occurrences.

Despite the high death rate, Barambah grew as a result of government policies which forcibly moved large numbers of Aboriginal people to the mission. Government policy encouraged Aboriginal reserves and missions to be self-supporting. At Barambah, as elsewhere, this was achieved by using Aboriginal residents as hired labour, with wages controlled by government administrators, restricted access to savings, and money deducted to go towards maintenance of the settlement.

While his mother remained at Barambah for a time, young George was raised at Eidsvold by Thomas and Mary Hampson. He grew up with their daughter Lily and her three brothers Newton, Thomas, and Dennis (known as “Dan”), and an elder half-sister to the family, and soon found work as a stockman.

On 5 April 1916, George and his adoptive brother Dan travelled to Cloncurry to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. The two were allotted to reinforcements to the 52nd Battalion, and after initial training embarked from Brisbane on the troopship Seang Choon on 19 September, bound for overseas service.

Arriving in England in December, Dan Hampson proceeded to France in mid-February 1917 and was taken on the strength of the 47th Battalion.

George Aitken, however, would not be going with him. On 13 January, he was charged with disobeying an order to leave the village of Codford given by military provost Sergeant Self. Aitken didn’t take kindly to being placed in the custody of Lance Corporal Roberts, and retaliated by punching Roberts in the face.

A few weeks later Aitken was court-martialled. Despite pleading not guilty to both charges, he was convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour. Less than a week later, however, the ruling was commuted to 12 months detention and forfeiture of pay.

On 21 June 1917, George Aitken was released; the remaining six months of his sentence was remitted, and he was sent to join his unit in France. He was finally taken on strength of the 52nd Battalion on 22 July 1917.

In early October, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Australian Divisions captured Broodseinde Ridge. It was a vital victory. But then it began to rain. Five days later the 2nd Division suffered heavily in a further attack in the mud. On the 12th of October, another attack, involving the 3rd Division assisted by the 4th, was made against the village of Passchendaele atop the main ridge. In the face of heavy fire, the men fought in the mire while struggling to keep up with their artillery barrages. Ground was taken but it could not be held. In wretched conditions, with casualties mounting at an appalling rate, the Australians had to fall back.

A week later, on 19 October, Aitken was with C Company in the front line at Broodseinde Ridge, conducting working and carrying parties, and were about to be relieved when they came under heavy shell-fire, including a gas attack, that caused heavy casualties. Among the dead was George Aitken.

Aitken’s gravesite was never recovered, and today he is commemorated at the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, which bears the names of more than 54,000 soldiers who died in the area and have no known grave.

George’s will was informal, set out in a letter to his adoptive brother, Dan, a part of which read:

Well, Dan, I can safely say that we are the only two true mates there are in the world. That’s a big word to say. Well, Dan, if I gets knocked you can have anything you can find on me that is any use to you, and my allotted money to be left to Mrs Hampson. Show this to one of the heads; don’t forget.

In 1918 military authorities attempted to send Aitken’s personal items to his adoptive mother, Mrs Mary Hampson. But as she had recently passed away, and her husband had died earlier, there was no-one to take his belongings.

George Aitken was 23 years old.

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 George Robert Aitken, 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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