The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1514) Private Harold Breedon, 18th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.
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 Meleah Hampton, the story for this day was on (1514) Private Harold Breedon, 18th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.
1514 Private Harold Breedon, 18th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF
DOW 9 April 1918
Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Harold Breedon.
Harold Breedon was born in Sydney in 1887, the son of Thomas and Sarah Breedon. Known as “Toby”, he attended Marrickville Public School and after leaving school worked as a clerk.
In early 1915, Breedon enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He trained at Liverpool camp near Sydney for several weeks and in May embarked on the transport ship Themistocles, bound for Egypt. He completed further training at the Australian army camps in Egypt with his unit, the 18th Australian Infantry Battalion.
Breedon landed on Gallipoli in early August. One week after he arrived, he was wounded in action during the Anzac assault on the Turkish trenches at Lone Pine. Having been hit by shrapnel in his leg, he was evacuated, first to the hospital on Mudros Island, and then to a hospital in Cairo. At the end of September, he had rejoined his unit on Gallipoli, and remained there until the Australians withdrew from the peninsula in December.
In Egypt, the AIF took on new recruits and effectively doubled in size. Breedon remained in the 18th Battalion, and with the other veterans of the Gallipoli campaign, he had the task of familiarising the new soldiers with life on active service. The unit trained in Egypt until mid-March, when it sailed to France to join the fighting on the Western Front.
The 18th Battalion’s first major action in France was at Pozieres, where it was engaged from late July into early August. The Australian 2nd Division, to which the battalion belonged, attacked the German trenches after earlier assaults had failed. On the first day of the assault, Breedon was wounded in action a second time, this time shot in his leg. He was transferred to hospital in England to recuperate.
In mid-November, Breedon had recovered and returned to France. The French winter of 1916 and 1917 was the most severe in recent memory, and the Australians in the trenches suffered from the bitter cold and snow. As the weather warmed up, it became clear that the German forces had made a strategic withdrawal to a stronger defensive position. The 18th Battalion was involved in following the Germans, and engaged in a major battle at Bullecourt in May. Following the wounding of a fellow soldier, Breedon was temporarily made lance corporal.
In September, the focus for the Australians shifted north to the Belgian border. Breedon and the 18th Battalion were involved in the third battle for the city of Ypres. At the battle of Menin Road, Breedon was wounded in action for the third time, once again suffering a bullet wound to his leg. He recovered at a hospital in France, and was able to rejoin the unit at the end of October.
Breedon was granted leave in England in December 1917. Since leaving Gallipoli, Breedon had been punished on several occasions for being absent without leave, but after this third wound to the legs, he overstayed his leave in England by more than three weeks. When he returned to duty, he faced a court martial and was found guilty. Sentenced to 90 days’ field punishment, this sentence was remitted due to the need for soldiers in the Australian units.
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 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. Breedon 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. The unit rapidly moved to a nearby field and dug in, but Breedon was struck by shell-fire and wounded. He died of his injuries later that day. He was 31 years old.
Harold Breedon’s remains lie buried in St Pierre Cemetery, in Amiens. His grieving mother had the following epitaph inscribed on his headstone: “His the gift of sacrifice, his life given to keep the Empire ours”.
His parents suffered further pain when the package containing his 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 Breedon’s personal effects, along with those of about 5,000 other Australian soldiers who had died on the Western Front, were lost.
Private Harold Breedon 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 Harold Breedon, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.
Historian, Military History Section
Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1514) Private Harold Breedon, 18th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)
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- Africa: Egypt
- Africa: Egypt, Cairo
- Europe: Belgium, Flanders, West-Vlaanderen, Ypres
- Europe: Belgium, Flanders, West-Vlaanderen, Ypres, Menin Road
- Europe: France
- Europe: France, Picardie, Somme, Albert Bapaume Area, Pozieres Area, Pozieres
- Europe: France, Picardie, Somme, Amiens Harbonnieres Area, Villers-Bretonneux Area, Villers-Bretonneux
- Europe: France, Picardie, Somme, Amiens, Gentelles
- Europe: France, Picardie, Somme, Amiens, St Pierre Cemetery
- Europe: France, Picardie, Somme, Bapaume Cambrai Area, Bullecourt
- Europe: United Kingdom, England
- Middle East: Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Dardanelles, Gallipoli, Anzac Area (Gallipoli), Lone Pine Area, Lone Pine