The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX34777) Private Ewen McColl Knight, 2/24th Battalion, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.236
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 August 2019
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

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 Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (VX34777) Private Ewen McColl Knight, 2/24th Battalion, Second World War.

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Speech transcript

VX34777 Private Ewen McColl Knight, 2/24th Battalion
Illness 30 January 1943

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Ewen McColl Knight.

Ewen McColl Knight was born on 5 February 1918 to Maud and Hugh Knight of the Melbourne suburb of Box Hill. Knight grew up with his parents, brothers Ian and Clive, and his sister Edna, and went to school at Curlewis, to the east of Geelong. In the difficult years of the Great Depression, Ewen and his brother Ian found work by travelling around rural Victoria and performing farm labourer duties such as woodcutting, land-clearing, fencing, road and bridge repair.

In early June 1940, Knight and his brother Ian applied to join the Australian military at the Myers Street Drill Hall in Geelong, and formally enlisted into the Second Australian Imperial Force at Royal Park in Melbourne on 26 June. The two brothers would serve together in the same unit throughout their time in the war. Their siblings would also serve. Clive served in the 7th Division of the Australian Imperial Force, Edna in the Australian Women’s Army Service.

After enlisting, Knight and his brother Ian trained at Wangaratta and Bonegilla, and joined the 2/24th Australian Infantry Battalion. On 16 November 1940 they embarked on the transport ship Strathmore and sailed for Palestine. Knight and his unit camped and trained near Gaza, and when on leave took to opportunity to visit sites such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Dead Sea.

In early 1941 Knight and the 2/24th Battalion moved to Libya for further training, and camped near the Tocra Pass, east of Benghazi, to guard an important road junction. The battalion held its position, but in the face of overwhelming German attack, made an organised retreat to Tobruk in early April. Ewan’s brother Ian later wrote in his memoirs of his wartime experience that their time in Libya was dominated by dust storms, dive-bombing enemy aircraft, and artillery fire.

Knight and the 2/24th Battalion entered Tobruk as the Germans began to besiege the town, and spent the following weeks manning the defensive front lines in the desert. At the end of April, Knight and his brother were holding their position when their battalion came under heavy German attack. The Australian troops were able to hold off German infantry troops, but became surrounded when German tanks passed their flanks. By the morning of 1 May 1940, the troops had expended all of their ammunition, and were taken as prisoners of war by the German forces.

Ewen and Ian stayed together for almost their entire time as prisoners of war. At first they were put to work clearing airfields and transporting material for Axis forces in North Africa. In August 1941 they were transported from Tripoli to Italy, where they entered an internment camp at Capua, in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. After Capua, Knight and his brother were transferred again to Udine, in far north-eastern Italy, where they passed an extremely cold and bitter winter.

It was often difficult for prisoners of war to keep in contact with their family. The Knight family heard that Ewen and Ian were missing presumed prisoners of war in May 1941, but heard no more of the fate of the brothers for eight months.
In his second winter in prison camps in Italy, while still at Udine, Ewen became ill with a severe case of meningitis. He was taken to the local Convent Hospital, but despite medical treatment, died on 30 January 1943. He was 24 years old.

His loss was felt deeply by all of the Allied prisoners of war at the camp in Udine, and his brother Ian later thanked convent staff who had treated his sick brother, and the Italian camp guards who allowed for Ewen to be buried with military honours, including a gun salute.

Knight is buried in the Udine War Cemetery, where over 400 soldiers of the Second World War now lie. His epitaph reads: “For King and Country”.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second 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 Ewen McColl Knight, 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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