The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (3752) Private William Davis, 1st Pioneer Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.354
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 20 December 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 , the story for this day was on (3752) Private William Davis, 1st Pioneer Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

3752 Private William Davis, 1st Pioneer Battalion, AIF
DOW 21 August 1916

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private William Davis, who was killed while fighting in France during the First World War.
William Davis was born in 1894, one of 11 children born to Mary and John Davis of Couridjah, near Thirlmere in New South Wales. Davis attended the local public school at Thirlmere, and later worked as a labourer and timber cutter.

Davis enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Holsworthy Camp on 20 September 1915, and joined the 12th reinforcements of the 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion. After training for three months, he embarked on the HMAT Medic, bound for Egypt. While camped in Egypt, Davis transferred to the 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion.

Pioneer Battalions played a vital role in the war. Their members served as engineers, and were involved with digging, clearing and maintaining trenches. At the same time, they also carried weapons, so when required could be used to support front line troops.

The 1st Pioneer Battalion arrived in France at Marseilles in April 1916 and began its transfer to the front. Davis was briefly hospitalised with the mumps soon after his arrival in France, but soon joined his unit as it undertook engineering work at Sailly, in the Somme region of northern France.

On 30 May the 1st Pioneer Battalion was carrying out routine repair and building works in the trenches near Sailly. At 7:30 pm the sector of the front line they were working on came under heavy German bombardment. After two hours of shelling, several German raiding parties attacked their position. Australian troops drove off these attacks, but the fighting caused considerable damage to the trenches. Davis and the 1st Pioneer Battalion worked all night to repair the parapets and make sure the trenches were passable again. They did not complete this task until daybreak.

In July 1916, after having spent the previous weeks repairing trenches and huts under intermittent enemy fire, Davis and the 1st Pioneer Battalion moved from their billet in Albert to the trenches near the village of Pozieres. It was here that they were to participate in their first major battle in support of the 1st Australian Division.

At 12:30 am on 23 July, Australian troops advanced across no man’s land after a heavy bombardment of the German lines. They successfully reached their objectives but soon came under heavy German counterattack. 1st Division troops successfully defended against the initial German counter attack; however, this was followed by three days of extremely heavy artillery fire and fighting.

The 1st Pioneer Battalion supported other Australian troops by constructing strong points and improving communication lines. On the night of 24 July it supported an infantry attack on German lines, and on the morning of 25 July it helped man the trenches to defend against a particularly strong German assault. Along with the rest of the 1st Division, it was relieved from front line duties on 27 July. In the five days of the fighting, the 1st Division suffered over 5,000 casualties.

After Pozieres, Davis and the 1st Pioneer Battalion rested behind the front for just over a week before once again returning to front line duties. Again, they cleared and improved front line and communication trenches, all the while facing intermittent German high explosive and shrapnel artillery.

On 21 August 1916 Davis and the 1st Pioneer Battalion was conducting repair work on trenches badly damaged by German shelling in an area of the Somme known as Avoca Valley. The unit came under heavy and constant German shelling. In difficult conditions, the unit managed to take ten German prisoners, but suffered heavy casualties.

Davis received a shrapnel wound to the head that fractured his skull. He was evacuated to the nearby 3rd Casualty Clearing Station, but later died of his wounds. He was 22 years old.

He is buried in the Puchevillers British Cemetery in France, along with over 1,700 soldiers of the First World War.

Private William Davis 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 Private William Davis, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

David Sutton
Historian, Military History Section