The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1235) Private Harold Stewart Slack, 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.180
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 29 June 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 (1235) Private Harold Stewart Slack, 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

1235 Private Harold Stewart Slack, 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion, AIF
DOW 13 August 1918

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Harold Stewart Slack.

Harold Slack was born to Charles and Isabell Slack in 1884 in the New South Wales town of Orange. Known as “Harry” to his family and friends, he attended schools in Orange and Braidwood. He worked as a rubble mason and a blacksmith, and married Eugenie Maud Stanley.

Slack was keen to aid the war effort, enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in December 1914. He joined the 8th Battalion in Victoria, and trained for about two months at Broadmeadows camp north of Melbourne. In February 1915 he sailed on the troop ship Clan McGillivray to the Australian army camp at Alexandria in Egypt.

Slack did not participate in the Gallipoli landings on 25 April as he had been admitted to hospital on Lemnos Island the week before with pneumonia. When he recovered, he rejoined his battalion on Gallipoli. The day after he arrived, a major Turkish offensive began that tested the strength of the Australian and New Zealand troops, but was successfully repelled. In June, Slack was wounded by gunfire. He was evacuated to St Andrew’s Hospital in Malta where he recuperated until September, when he again rejoined his unit on Gallipoli. Towards the end of the year, British commanders decided to withdraw from the peninsula, and Slack returned to Egypt in January 1916.

In Egypt, Slack transferred to the 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion. Presumably drawing on the building skills he had developed before the war as a rubble mason, he trained in the skills of trench and bridge building and road repair. The men of the 1st Pioneer Battalion arrived in Marseilles in April, and entrained north to the Western Front. Slack excelled at his work, and rose through the ranks over the next year to become a sergeant.

In March 1917, Slack went to England to further his training. The hardships of trench warfare and poor health took a toll on many soldiers. On 30 July 1917, Slack was reported absent without leave for about six weeks. During this time, his cousin Private Albert Edward Campbell, also of the 8th Battalion, died in hospital in England, about 45 kilometres from Slack’s training camp.
Soon after returning to service in October 1917 Slack was admitted sick to hospital in the English village of Sutton Veny. He again absconded, this time for three months. Military police eventually arrested him in London, and at the subsequent court martial, he was sentenced to four months detention and reduced to the rank of private. Most of his sentence was remitted, and he returned to his unit in France in July 1918.

In August 1918, the 1st Pioneer Battalion was supporting the Australian troops around the French village of Villers-Bretonneux. Early in the morning of 13 August 1918, Slack’s company were engaged in building strong points in the front lines when his work party was hit by a German artillery shell. The shell landed where Slack was working, badly wounding him, and killing several of his comrades. He was evacuated to a field ambulance, where he died at about 8:30 in the morning. He was 34 years old.

Three of Slack’s relatives served in the First World War. His brother-in-law, Private Herbert Sydney Arter, was killed at Pozieres in 1916. As well as the cousin who had died of illness in England in 1917, another cousin, Private Cyril Stewart Campbell, returned to Australia at the end of the war.

Harry Slack is buried in Villers-Bretonneux Communal Cemetery. He was survived by his parents, six sisters, and his wife Eugenie and their three children.

Private Harold Stewart Slack 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 Harold Stewart Slack, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Thomas Rogers
Historian, Military History Section

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