The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX20661) Trooper David Richard Kersey Nurthen, 2/7 Cavalry Commando Unit, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.363
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 30 December 2019
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
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 Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (NX20661) Trooper David Richard Kersey Nurthen, 2/7 Cavalry Commando Unit, Second World War.

Speech transcript

NX20661 Trooper David Richard Kersey Nurthen, 2/7 Cavalry Commando Unit
KIA 30 December 1942

Today we remember and pay tribute to Trooper David Richard Kersey Nurthen.

David Nurthern was born on 2 August 1912 in the eastern Sydney suburb of Waverly, the son of George and Francis Nurthen.

He grew up in the area with his siblings Melton, Percy and Alice, and attended the local school.

When the Second World War began, he was working as a plumber, and had spent four months in the Australian Military Forces with the 7th Light Horse Brigade.
He enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force on 22 May 1940, joining the 7th Division Cavalry Regiment.

While training at Cowra, he was found absent without leave and, as punishment, was confined to barracks for a week. But this misdemeanour didn’t prevent him taking pre-embarkation leave the following month, during which he was able to spend time with friends and family.

On 26 December, Nurthern left Australia, bound for overseas service. Landing in the Middle East in early 1941, his unit conducted further training and was used mainly in a defensive role. Equipped with Vickers light tanks and Bren carriers, it was garrisoned at the Suez Canal, before transferring to Cyprus after the fall of Greece. In August 1941, the regiment was moved to Syria where it formed part of the Allied occupation forces.

In March 1942, the regiment returned to Australia, following Japan’s entry into the war. A few months later, on 13 May, David Nurthern married his sweetheart Rachel – who he referred to affectionately as “Rae”. When the couple’s honeymoon ran late, Nurthern was found absent without leave, receiving two week’s detention as punishment.
In September 1942 Nurthern again embarked for overseas service, this time travelling to New Guinea to defend Port Moresby against the Japanese advance along the Kokoda Track.

As the campaign began to turn in the favour of the Australians in December, the 2/7th was flown over the Owen Stanley Range to Popondetta in order to take part in the fighting along the Sananada Track as infantry. Japanese troops had dug in along the north coast, determined to hold the beachheads at all costs, and Sanananda was the centre of their defensive position. The Japanese commander concentrated most of his force in this area and took personal command. Defences were placed along the track, with positions protected by deep camouflaged bunkers made of logs that were placed in depth.

Allied air power deterred the Japanese from reinforcing and resupplying the beachheads, and towards the end of the battle, some defenders were withdrawn by sea or escaped overland. But the remaining garrison would fight to the death, almost to the man.

The 2/7th made a wide flanking movement to reach the Huggins Roadblock. It was a nightmare of a journey, involving crossing areas of waist-deep swamp along a track known as “the Track of Dead Men’s Bones”. At each bend the soldiers found green and rotting corpses. After reaching the roadblock, six days of tough fighting followed as the men advanced some 350 metres and secured a forward post. The advance, which cost the 2/7th 30 dead and 40 wounded, ground to a halt just before Christmas. Leaving the troops to deal with the situation so aptly described by the official history:
The primaeval swamps, the dank and silent bush, the heavy loss of life, the fixity of purpose of the Japanese for most of whom death could be the only ending, all combined to make this struggle so appalling that most of the hardened soldiers who were to emerge from it remember it unwillingly and as their most exacting experience of the whole war.

With no more Australian forces available unless the defences elsewhere in New Guinea were stripped, Nurthen and his mates would not receive assistance until the New Year. Sanananda itself wouldn’t be taken until late January.
Nurthen would not live to see the village taken, having been killed in action on 30 December 1942. A soldier who say Nurthern fall reported that he “was killed instantly by machine gun fire … on the Sanananda Track … He was a very courageous and popular chap.”

David Nurthen was 30 years old.

Chaplain F.J. Hartley later wrote to David’s widow and told her that he was not able to get into the area until 17 January, at which point he gave David and his friends “a proper burial where they had fallen. A rough wooden cross marks the spot in the jungle.”

Following the loss of her husband Rachel Nurthen joined the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service.

Today David Nurthen’s remains lie in Port Moresby Bomana Cemetery, under the inscription: “Treasured memories of courage and love by his loving wife Rae”.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Trooper David Richard Kersey Nurthen, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Duncan Beard
Editor, Military History Section