The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (2121) Sergeant Frederick John Hilliar Alford, 56th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.277
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 4 October 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 (2121) Sergeant Frederick John Hilliar Alford, 56th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

2121 Sergeant Frederick John Hilliar Alford, 56th Battalion, AIF
DOW 25 October 1917

Today we remember and pay tribute to Sergeant Frederick John Hilliar Alford.

Frederick Alford, known as “Fred” to his family and friends, was born in 1891 near Cowra, New South Wales, the son of Emily and William Alford. Fred had two brothers and three sisters. He attended a local school before working as a farmer and grazier. He lived at Woodstock, near Cowra, and before the war served for three years in the local Cowra voluntary light horse regiment. His brother Thomas also served in the local militia, and later served on Gallipoli and in Egypt as part of the 6th Light Horse Brigade.

Fred enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in February 1916 and trained at Cootamundra. He sailed from Sydney in September, and after a brief period of training in England, sailed for the Western Front in Europe. Fred arrived in France in mid-December 1916 and joined the 56th Battalion just in time for the terribly cold winter of that year.

Fred previous military experience serving in the militia in Australia clearly made him a useful and reliable soldier. Throughout his time on the Western Front, he was promoted three times: in April 1917 from private to lance corporal, in September to corporal, and in October to acting sergeant.

Fred and the 56th Battalion spent months manning the trenches of the Somme region of northern France enduring the hardships of the freezing winter conditions, and the drudgery and horror of trench warfare. Their time was split between resting and training behind the front, and facing intermittent enemy artillery and machine-gun fire while manning the front line. In early 1917, the 56th Battalion pursued German forces retreating to the Hindenburg Line, a newly constructed series of fortified trenches and dugouts designed to shorten and strengthen German defensive positions. The 56th Battalion also defended gains made by Australian forces at the Second Battle of Bullecourt, an engagement that cost Australian forces nearly 7,500 casualties.

In 1917, the focus of British operations shifted north to Flanders in Belgium. Fred and the 56th Battalion also moved north, and on 26 September participated in the Battle of Polygon Wood. Fred’s division formed the right flank of an attack in which Australian forces were to advance 1500 mentres through the shattered remains of a young plantation. The day before the operation German forces attacked British forces to Fred’s immediate south, jeopardising allied plans. However, the offensive proceeded, and at 5:50 am a massive artillery barrage signalled the beginning of the Australian assault. The attack was successful and objectives were gained, however, German artillery and counter attacks cost Australian forces over five and a half thousand casualties in a single day.

Fred’s conduct during the Battle of Polygon Wood led his commanding officer to recommend him for a Military Medal. In his citation, made on 5 October, the officer wrote: “After capturing the final objective this NCO displayed fine coolness and leadership in consolidating his post on the extreme right flank, walking about under heavy rifle and machine gun fire in the execution of his duty. Although very short handed Corporal Seale and himself kept the enemy at bay until I was able to reinforce them. He was very active in putting down the heavy sniping of the enemy during the first two days and was of great assistance to me.”

On 17 October, the 56th Battalion was in the process of relieving the Australian 60th Battalion at Westhoek Ridge near Ypres, when they came under heavy German high explosive artillery fire. Fred received severe wounds, including a fractured skull and shrapnel wounds to his back. He spent the next eight days in a critical condition at the 3rd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station, and on 25 October succumbed to his wounds. He was 26 years old.

Today his remains lie buried in the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium, along with over 9,000 Commonwealth soldiers of the First World War. His grieving family left the following epitaph on his grave: “One of the best. A brother dearly loved. Sadly missed by all he knew”.

News of the tragedy inflicted a double blow on the Alford family. Fred’s father, heartbroken at the news of his son’s death, died three weeks after hearing the news. In a final cruel twist, the ship carrying Fred’s possessions to his family in Australia sunk after being torpedoed by a German U-boat.

Sergeant Frederick John Hilliar Alford 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 Sergeant Frederick John Hilliar Alford, 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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