The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Captain Alexander Gair Cormack, 3rd Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.333
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 29 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 Chris Widenbar, the story for this day was on Captain Alexander Gair Cormack, 3rd Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

Captain Alexander Gair Cormack, 3rd Battalion, AIF.
KIA 23 August 1918

Today we remember and pay tribute to Captain Alexander Gair Cormack.
Alexander Gair Cormack was born on 4 August 1879 near the town of Wick, Scotland, one of nine children born to David and Elizabeth Cormack. Known as “Alex” or “Sandy” to his friends and family, he attended Wick Public School and Glasgow High School, and later worked as a carpenter and joiner.

Before moving to Australia, he gained military experience serving for five years in the Scottish Rifles of the British Armed Forces. In 1906, he took part in the suppression of the Natal Rising, a Zulu rebellion against imperial forces in the aftermath of the Boer War. Following his military service in Africa Cormack migrated to Sydney, where he continued to work as a carpenter and joiner. On 1 June 1910 he married Winifred May, and the couple had four sons, James, David, John and Alexander.

Cormack enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force on 3 January 1916, and in April, just weeks after the birth of his youngest son, departed for the war on the Western Front. He arrived in France in May 1916 after a brief stopover in Egypt, and upon arrival was hospitalised with injuries to his arms. This was a serious injury for which he stayed in England for treatment for over a month. Once recovered, Cormack departed for France, underwent additional training, and in March 1917, joined the 3rd Infantry Battalion to serve as a lieutenant in the Somme region of northern France.

Cormack spent his first five weeks on the front experiencing the hardships of trench warfare. He spent time either training and resting behind the trenches, or surviving intermittent enemy artillery and machine-gun fire while manning the front line. At 4:30 am on 4 May, German troops attacked the flanks of his battalion near Vaulx by moving along old communication trenches. They came to within 25 metres of the Australian lines and began throwing grenades. Later in the day, as Australian forces attempted to push the Germans back, they came under heavy German machine-gun and heavy artillery fire. Cormack suffered a shell wound to the head and left arm that saw him hospitalised until June.

After returning to the front, in October 1917 Cormack was stationed with the 3rd Battalion in the Ypres region of Belgium. It was here that he took part in action at Broodseinde, in part of what would become known as the Third Battle of Passchendaele.

On 4 October, Australian and New Zealand troops prepared for an offensive on German positions in rainy and muddy conditions. Forty minutes before they were due to begin their attack, the Anzac troops came under heavy German mortar fire, and due to the fact that they were preparing for their own attack, could only sit and endure the bombardment.

At 6 am British artillery units launched a major bombardment of German lines, and Anzac troops soon jumped out of their trenches into no man’s land. Once over the top, the Anzac forces were met by a German unit only 30 metres away, which was making its own attack. The weaker German forces were pushed back in the confusion, but the advancing Anzac forces met with fierce German machine-gun fire from concrete pill-boxes. They did eventually gain all of their objectives, but combined Australian and New Zealand forces suffered more than 8,000 casualties.

During this action, Cormack was injured a second time, this time with severe shrapnel wounds to the forehead and ears. The details are unclear, but a medical report states that he was buried by a high-explosive shell, managed to dig himself out, and then carried on for two days. The injuries were serious enough that he went to England for treatment, not only for his physical injuries, but shell shock as well. While recovering in England, Alex’s experience and duty was formally recognised through his promotion to captain. He rejoined his unit near Ypres in December 1917, and spent the following months undergoing additional training and front line duties.

In April, Alex and the 3rd Battalion returned south to the Somme region of France to meet renewed German attacks. On 14 April 1918, Alex was seriously injured a third time while defending Strazeele. At 6:40 am, the Germans commenced an artillery bombardment on Australian lines and proceeded an attack across no man’s land in a series of waves. The Australians defended their position with machine-gun fire, but suffered heavy casualties from German sniper positions and a German aeroplane, which flew over the trenches and dropped a series of bombs. Cormack was admitted to hospital with a severe gunshot wound to his left forearm, and was later sent once more to England to recover.

By August 1918, Cormack was again at the front, this time taking part in the enormous British and Commonwealth offensive on German lines that would play a decisive role in the war. On 23 August, Australian troops led an attack near Chuignes. The attack began at 4.45 am behind an enormous artillery barrage, and the troops crossed no man’s land with the support of a large deployment of tanks. Cormack was leading his men near Proyart when he paused their advance in order to wait for the Australian barrage to clear a forward path. He risked his life by moving forward under heavy fire to assess the situation and make plans for a further advance. After successfully completing his task, he was killed as he returned to his unit. He was 39 years old.

His commanding officer posthumously mentioned him in despatches, and described him as having led his company with “great skill and coolness”.

Alex Cormack was greatly mourned by his friends and family. His grieving wife and young children left the following epitaph on his grave: “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away our hero daddy”.

He now lies in the Heath Cemetery in France, where over 1800 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War are buried or commemorated.

Captain Alexander Gair Cormack 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 Captain Alexander Gair Cormack, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

David Sutton
Historian, Military History Section


  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Captain Alexander Gair Cormack, 3rd Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)