The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (3538) Private Belford Wellington Earl, 55th Battalion, AIF, first World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.187
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 July 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 (3538) Private Belford Wellington Earl, 55th Battalion, AIF, first World War.

Speech transcript

3538 Private Belford Wellington Earl, 55th Battalion, AIF
DOW 11 May 1917

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Belford Wellington Earl, who was killed while fighting in France during the First World War.
Belford Earl was born on 1 March 1893 near Narrabri, New South Wales, the eldest son of Edward and Sophia Earl. Known as “Bill” to his family and friends, he lived in Collarenedri, north of Walgett, attended the local public school, and then worked as a station hand on the local farms.

Earl enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 4 August 1915, and after three months training, embarked from Sydney aboard the transport ship Euripides for the war. He arrived in Egypt in February 1916, and eventually joined the 55th Australian Infantry Battalion.

The 55th Battalion was formed in early 1916 during the “doubling of the AIF”, when experienced units recently returned from Gallipoli were mixed with new recruits from Australia. After another four months training in Egypt, Earl and the 55th Battalion sailed for France and the war on the Western Front. Their first posting was to the Somme region in northern France, where they arrived on 12 July 1916. Eight days after his arrival in the trenches, Earl was seriously wounded by a gunshot wound to his foot that saw him recovering in hospital for over a month. Earl sustained this injury fighting in the Battle of Fromelles.

In this battle, Australian forces launched a major attack on a bulge in the German lines known as the “Sugar Loaf”. The 5th Australian Division, of which Earl was part, was to attack the German lines from the north, supported by a similar attack by British forces to the south. British and Australian artillery units bombed the German lines for seven hours, then at 6 pm commenced an attack across no man’s land. Earl’s 14th Brigade crossed the muddy and waterlogged ground and, combined with the 8th Brigade, successfully captured nearly one kilometre of German trenches. The brigade proceeded to hold their gains throughout the night, but due to extensive German artillery fire and counter attacks to their flanks, were eventually forced to withdraw. The 5th Australian Division suffered over 5,500 casualties in this engagement. The commander of Earl’s battalion noted in his field diary that the battalion, “acquitted itself honourably in its first engagement” despite the fact that 80 per cent of the men had no prior battle experience. They took 40 German prisoners of war, but lost over 300 casualties.

Bill spent most of the winter of 1916 and 1917 in hospital, first with rheumatism, and then with the mumps. Throughout this period, his battalion endured the hardships and drudgery of trench warfare. In the freezing winter conditions, they spent their time either manning the front line under intermittent German artillery and machine-gun fire, or training and resting behind the front.

In May 1917, just two months after his return to the front from hospital, Earl and the 55th battalion took part in the Second battle of Bullecourt, a renewed attempt to seize part of a series of fortified German trenches known as the Hindenburg Line. At 3.45 am on 3 May, Australian and British forces attacked the fortified village of Bullecourt. Despite initial success, they were not able to surround the German positions. This was the beginning of a battle that would steadily draw in more and more troops, and last for over two weeks. The German counterattacks on the advanced Australian positions have been described as producing “some of the most intense trench fighting of the war”, and the engagement ultimately cost the Australian Imperial Force nearly 7,500 casualties.

Earl and the 55th Battalion were used as reinforcements and entered the battle on 9 May. Throughout their first day of the battle they were continually bombarded by German high-explosive artillery and gas shells. At some point, Earl suffered severe injuries to the left side of his body that fractured his pelvis and caused extensive wounds to his hips, face, and arm. He was taken from the battlefield to the 3rd Australian Casualty Clearing Station and eventually to the 13th General Hospital behind the lines. When he arrived at the hospital on 11 May, he was described as being in a “grave condition”, and at 8:30 pm he succumbed to his injuries.

He was 24 years old.

His remains now lie in the Boulogne Eastern Cemetery in France, along with over 5,500 Commonwealth soldier killed in the First World War.

Belford Wellington Earl 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 Belford Wellington Earl, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

David Sutton
Historian, Military History Section

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