The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Lieutenant William James Spencer, 15th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.77
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 17 March 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 Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

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 Lieutenant William James Spencer, 15th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

Lieutenant William James Spencer, 15th Battalion, AIF
KIA 4 July 1918

Today we remember and pay tribute to Lieutenant William James Spencer.

William Spencer was born William James Bottom in 1887 to William and Catherine Bottom of Cooma, New South Wales. He seems to have been the only one of his siblings to use his mother’s maiden name rather than the family name of Bottom. At some point Will moved on his own to Townsville in Queensland, and worked there for Cummins and Campbell Ltd. Newspapers later reported that “he was very popular among his comrades while in the north.”

Will Spencer enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in September 1915. He underwent a period of training in Australia before leaving for active service overseas in March 1916.

Private Spencer was first sent to Egypt, but was in hospital within a fortnight. He spent an extended period undergoing treatment, and during his convalescence wrote to his parents to say he thought “he had managed to contract ‘every known kind of disease’”, even to a return of dengue fever and mumps. He was not fit for active service until October 1916, when he finally joined his battalion on the Western Front.

Spencer proved an able soldier, and was quickly promoted to lance corporal. He spent the bitterly cold winter of 1916 and 1917 with his battalion as it rotated in and out of the front line. In early February a party of around 220 men from the 15th Battalion attacked a German position on the Somme. They entered the German line and took about 50 prisoners, but were eventually forced out by a strong counter-attack. At some point during this operation, Lance Corporal Spencer was wounded in the right thigh and had to be evacuated to England for treatment. It took six months before he was fit enough to return to his battalion.

After rejoining the 15th Battalion in France in August 1917, Spencer once again proved to be a valuable member of his unit, and by October had been commissioned second lieutenant. Early the following year he wrote to his parents to say, “The weather here can be described by no other word than ‘rotten’; snow one day, rain the next, and mud and cold winds galore, but I do not think we shall have to put up with such things much longer, as I have an idea that peace is close at hand.”

Shortly after he wrote that letter, the Germans launched their Spring Offensive. The 15th Battalion was part of the force rushed in to try to contain German forces near Hébuterne. By July the German operations had slowed so much that the commanding officer of the Australian Corps, Lieutenant General John Monash, could begin to think offensively.

On 4 July 1918, the 15th Battalion took part in an attack to capture the French village of Hamel. Noted for its success – and the fact that the infantry had captured all of their objectives in only three minutes longer than had been planned – Hamel was a brilliant example of a coordinated all-arms attack. For the 15th Battalion, however, the result was not as positive. Facing a German strongpoint known as Pear Trench, the men of the 15th encountered staunch resistance. Nearly 40 per cent of the battalion became casualties.

One of those killed was Lieutenant Will Spencer. Little is known of the manner of his death, but his body was later recovered from the battlefield. Today he is buried at Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery under the words “His the noble sacrifice – ours the sacred loss.” He was 30 years old.

Both of Will’s brothers also served in the war. Corporal Joe Bottom was killed in action a little over a month after his brother at the Battle of Amiens in August 1918. Sergeant Les Bottom returned to Australia in late 1918 on special Australia leave. He had been badly wounded earlier in the war, and a minor car accident in Sydney inflamed problems with his back. Within weeks it had deteriorated to the point he could no longer walk, and he died in 1921 after two years in hospital.

Lieutenant Will Spencer’s name 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 Lieutenant William James Spencer, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Lieutenant William James Spencer, 15th Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)