The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (180) Private Joseph Alan Cordner, 6th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.328
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 November 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 Joanne Smedley, the story for this day was on (180) Private Joseph Alan Cordner, 6th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

180 Private Joseph Alan Cordner, 6th Battalion, AIF
KIA 25 April 1915

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Joseph Alan Cordner.

Joseph Cordner, commonly known by his middle name “Alan”, was born on 6 May 1890 in Bridgewater on Loddon, near Bendigo, Victoria, the eldest of two sons of Joseph and Jessie Cordner. Alan’s family moved regularly due to his father’s job as a bank manager, and Alan spent time in Dimboola, Coleraine, Warrnambool, and Hamilton, where he attended boarding school. When Alan was 11 his mother died. His father remarried the following year, and eventually he had three half-siblings. Alan went on to work as a bank clerk, as did his brother.

Alan Cordner was an able student, becoming captain of Hamilton College during his time there, but it was on the football field that he excelled. He came to the attention of the Victorian Football League while playing for Warrnambool, and in 1911 was given a trial run with Geelong against Carlton. After two years’ playing with Geelong, Cordner moved to the Collingwood Football Club, settling into a defensive role with the team and showing “considerable promise”. He was described as a “fine, manly player”.

Alan Cordner enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on the morning of 22 August 1914, a few days after his brother Clem. That afternoon, he played his last VFL game, round 17 of the home-and-away season against Essendon at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground. Cordner was one of the first—if not the first— Australian Rules footballers to enlist.

Cordner underwent a period of training in Australia before leaving Melbourne with the 6th Battalion on 19 October 1914. Shortly before he left, Cornder and another footballer, Mathieson, were presented with gold wrist watches by the president of the Collingwood Football Club during a social held by the players. It was reported that “both players are popular, and in the opinion of those who know them as footballers they are sure to make good in the strenuous conflict that looks to be ahead”. The president added that “he hoped that the stern fighting qualities displayed at football would prove to their great advantage, and that their behaviour in the firing line would be as good as it had always been on the football field”.

As a member of the first contingent of Australians to be sent for overseas service, Private Alan Cordner was first sent to Egypt where he continued training in the desert for several weeks.

In the early hours of 25 April 1915 the men of the 6th Battalion, having heard the sounds of firing as the first wave of troops landed at Anzac Cove, made their own landing, and rushed for the heights to support their comrades ahead. Like all the Anzac battalions, the 6th quickly became disorganised as it landed. It took nearly a week to get some order into the lines and to discover where men were.

Cordner may have been with a party of men under Lieutenant C.H. Taylor which pushed its way forward to engage with the enemy. As they went, the group became separated, and nobody seems to have known the whereabouts of many of the men. What is certain is that 25 April 1915 was the last time there was a reliable sighting of Private Alan Cordner.

In Australia, Cordner’s father began to realise that he had not heard from his eldest son, despite having had at least two letters from Clem in the same time. He contacted military authorities in July. Still struggling to make sense of the confusion of the first few days on Gallipoli, military authorities began an investigation.

The inquiry into the whereabouts of Private Alan Cordner quickly became mired in rumour and speculation. There were stories of him being in a convalescent camp; others that he had been killed in early August. Further muddying the picture, Joseph Cordner was also receiving correspondence from soldiers in the trenches about the fate of his son.

At various points in 1915 Alan Cordner was posted as “missing” and “wounded and missing”. Finally, Corporal W. Ivory reported that he had been part of the same small party as Cordner on 25 April. Separated from their men, and mixed in with some of another battalion, the group advanced about two miles from the beach. As Ivory turned to say something to Cordner, Cordner was shot. Ivory shook him and tried to make him speak, but in the end he stated that Cordner had been killed and had to be left behind. Ivory later stated he was the only one of the party to survive.

With every other story or rumour about the fate of Private Alan Cordner disproved, this seems to have been the most likely course of events, and almost exactly one year after the landing on Gallipoli, Cordner was declared to have been killed in action on 25 April 1915.

In Australia, those waiting to hear of Cordner’s fate had come to expect the worst. At the Collingwood football club, his club-mates erected a photograph of Alan in the committee room in memory of their mate. During their round seven fixture at Victoria Park against Richmond, the Collingwood team wore black armbands partly in memory of the loss of Lord Kitchener but also—they were quick to point out—in memory of Alan Cordner.

Perhaps the first VFL footballer to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force, Alan Cordner was also perhaps the first VFL footballer to give his life in service of his country. His body was never recovered, and today he is commemorated on the Lone Pine Memorial above the beach on Gallipoli. He was 24 years old.

His name 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 Joseph Alan Cordner, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (180) Private Joseph Alan Cordner, 6th Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)