The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (5692) Private William Wray, 18th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.205
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 24 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

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 Gerard Pratt, the story for this day was on (5692) Private William Wray, 18th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

5692 Private William Wray, 18th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF
KIA 9 April 1918

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private William Wray.

William Wray was born in Naas, County Kildare, Ireland in 1883 to Samuel and Elizabeth Wray. Known as “Bill”, he attended the local Church of England school. Little is known about his early life, except that he migrated to southern Africa as a young man.

Soon after war broke out between England and the South African Boer republics in 1899, Wray enlisted in the Western Province Mounted Rifles. During his service with this irregular unit, he saw action in the western Cape Colony fighting against Boer forces. Wray was still living in South Africa when England and Germany went to war in 1914. He enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, Durban Light Infantry and joined the British campaign in German Southwest Africa.

After his discharge from the Durban Light Infantry in mid-1915, Wray migrated to New South Wales at the age of 32 and found work as a railway employee. In early 1916, he married Ellen Andrew in Sydney. Shortly afterwards, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He spent three months training in Australia before embarking on the transport ship Euripides in September. Arriving in England at the end of October, he completed further training and sailed to France in December. Almost as soon as he had arrived he fell ill and returned to England to recover in hospital.

By March 1917, Wray had recovered, and instead of sailing to France again, he was posted to the army camps on the Salisbury Plain, where he worked and undertook further training. Perhaps his military experience made him a good instructor for the fresh troops coming through these camps. Wray remained at the Salisbury camps until December 1917, when he embarked for the fighting on the Western Front.

In Belgium, Wray joined his unit, the 18th Australian Infantry Battalion. The Australians had suffered enormous casualties during 1917, and at this time, the soldiers were resting and training in a relatively quiet sector of the front. As the weather warmed up and the ground hardened, the static trench fighting of the previous year became a war of movement.

In March 1918, the German army launched what would be its final major assault of the war, which became known as the German Spring Offensive. A key objective for the German forces in this attack was to capture the rail hub city of Amiens, and therefore split the British forces in the north from their French allies in the south. British and Australian forces managed to halt the offensive in April at the town of Villers-Bretonneux, less than 30 kilometres from Amiens. Wray and the 18th Battalion were stationed at the town to help stop the German advance.

In the first week of April, the 18th Battalion was in the front line at Villers-Bretonneux, during which time the men were targeted by German artillery and machine-gun fire. At the end of the week, the unit was relieved, and the men moved to billets at the smaller village of Gentelles, behind the front lines. The battalion’s war diary noted that this village’s civilian population had evacuated in the face of the fighting, so there was plenty of straw for the men to sleep on, and the men had their first decent sleep for over a week.
At 6 am the next morning, 9 April 1918, the men were awoken by a German artillery barrage falling on the village of Gentelles. During the shelling, Wray was struck by shrapnel and killed instantly. He was 35 years old.

William Wray is buried in Hangard Communal Cemetery Extension, where over 550 Commonwealth soldiers of the First World War are buried or commemorated. His grieving widow had his headstone inscribed with the simple epitaph, “At rest”.

In Australia, Wray was survived by his widow Ellen and his young son Billy, who he had not met.

Ellen suffered further pain when the package containing Wray’s personal effects was lost. It was bound for Australia on the steam ship Barunga when that ship was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Cornwall in July 1918. British destroyers were soon on the scene and managed to rescue all aboard, but the personal effects of Wray, and about 5,000 other Australian soldiers who had died on the Western Front, were lost.

Private William Wray is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among almost 62,000 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 William Wray, 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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