The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1599) Private James Alfred Smith, 53rd Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.12
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 12 January 2020
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 Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (1599) Private James Alfred Smith, 53rd Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

1599 Private James Alfred Smith, 53rd Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF
DOW 11 April 1918

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private James Alfred Smith.

James Alfred Smith was born in 1899 to Charles and Annie Smith of Moree, northern New South Wales. He attended school in the town and worked as a drover in the district.
In March 1916, despite being underage, Smith volunteered to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. He told the recruiting officer that he was aged 18. After a brief period of training in Australia, he sailed from Sydney on board the transport ship Marathon in May 1916.

Smith arrived in England in July 1916 and continued his training at the army camps on the Salisbury Plain. The camps suffered from overcrowding and unhealthy conditions, and it appears that Smith picked up an illness while training. After his arrival in France in September, he was admitted to hospital, where he remained for about three weeks. In October, he joined his unit in the field, the 53rd Australian Infantry Battalion.

By the end of 1916, British and allied forces had captured a series of strategic points north of the Somme River between the towns of Albert and Bapaume. As a harsh winter set in, the British and German forces began fortifying their new positions. The 53rd Battalion moved into the front lines in this region in late January 1917. A few days after this, Smith was struck by shell fragments in his chest and badly wounded. He was evacuated to England, where he recovered in hospital for two months. He continued training in England until the end of the year, returning to his unit in France in October 1917.

The 53rd Battalion played a supporting role in the third battle of Ypres. Many of its men carried rations and supplies to the Australian units in the front line under shell fire through deep mud and heavy rain. The Australian involvement in the battle ended in mid-October, and from then until March 1918, Smith’s battalion remained in Belgium. Over the winter months, they spent time training and in the front lines.

In mid-March 1918, German forces launched what was to be their last major assault of the war. Known as the German Spring Offensive, it aimed to capture the important rail-hub city of Amiens. Many Australian units were rushed south from Belgium to the Somme River sector. The 53rd Battalion took up a position in a supporting role west of the town of Albert.

In early April, the battalion moved into the front lines near Amiens. After some days at the front, the unit was moving back to the reserve area when Smith was struck in the back by shell fragments. He was taken to the nearest casualty clearing station, but died of his wounds on 11 April 1918. He was eighteen years old.

James Smith was buried in Namps-au-Val British Cemetery alongside more than 400 Commonwealth and French soldiers. His father chose the inscription, “The Lord gave & the Lord hath taken away”.

In 1919, Smith’s parents wrote to the Australian military authorities asking when his personal belongings would be sent to them. In fact, his effects had been sent home, 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 ships were soon on the scene and managed to rescue all aboard, but the personal effects of Smith, and about 5,000 other Australian soldiers who had died on the Western Front, were lost.

Smith’s uncle, Private Robert Alexander Smith, served in the 2nd Battalion and was wounded near Amiens on the day James died. Robert died of his wounds two days later, and was buried in the same cemetery as his nephew.

Private James Alfred Smith 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 James Alfred Smith, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Thomas Rogers
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1599) Private James Alfred Smith, 53rd Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)