The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (485) Sergeant John Henry Wiltch De Melker, 60th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.188
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 6 July 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

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 (485) Sergeant John Henry Wiltch De Melker, 60th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

485 Sergeant John Henry Wiltch De Melker, 60th Battalion, AIF
KIA 19 July 1916

Today we remember and pay tribute to Sergeant John Henry Wiltch De Melker.

John De Melker was born around 1892 near Cape Town in South Africa, one of six children born to Gerit Cornelius and Margaret De Melker. Shortly after John De Melker’s birth, his father moved to Australia to find work as a labourer. De Melker, his mother and his siblings remained in South Africa for another three years before the family was reunited in Australia in 1896. They lived in the Traralgon and Thorpdale area of Gippsland in Victoria. In 1902 John’s parents divorced. He continued to live with his mother, siblings, and later his stepfather at Traralgon.

John De Melker attended local state schools and later worked as a farmer. He was known as “a young man of great promise, highly respected and esteemed by all who knew him”, and was a founding member of a local sporting association. He also gained valuable military experience by serving in a local light horse militia unit.

De Melker enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 26 August 1914, shortly after the beginning of the First World War, and began training with the newly formed 8th Infantry Battalion.

In October, he sailed from Melbourne aboard the transport ship Benalla, and after a brief stopover in Albany, Western Australia, sailed for Egypt.

On 25 April 1915, De Melker and the 8th Battalion were part in the second wave of troops to land on Gallipoli, at what is now known as Anzac Cove. He remained on Gallipoli until the evacuation in December, and during that time played his part in the heavy fighting at Krithia and Lone Pine.

Throughout this period he served with distinction and was promoted several times. By the time of the Australian evacuation of Gallipoli, he was acting sergeant. This rank was confirmed in February 1916, when he was training in Egypt.

Soon after his promotion De Melker transferred to the newly formed 60th Infantry Battalion, which formed part of the 15th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division. After several months training with this new unit, which was comprised of Gallipoli veterans such as De Melker mixed with newly arrived recruits, the 60th Battalion sailed from Egypt for France and the war on the Western Front.

The 60th Battalion had its first major battle on 19 July 1916 at Fromelles in northern France.

In this battle, Australian troops of the 5th Division formed the northern pincer of an attack on a salient in the German lines known as the Sugar Loaf.

De Melker and the other men of the battalion moved to their front line starting positions before dawn amid heavy German bombardment of the Australian lines. At 6.45 am, they began attacking in a series of four waves. Each wave advanced under heavy German artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire. The men of the 60th Battalion got to about 80 metres from the German lines before being cut down, and the battalion suffered terrible casualties. Australian forces lost over 5,500 men killed, wounded or missing in this single battle; the 60th Battalion was virtually wiped out.

De Melker was last seen advancing across the battlefield with his company under heavy German fire. There were reports that he and his company had advanced about 90 metres before being cut down. It is unlikely that any of them survived.

In the chaos of the battle and later fighting, De Melker was originally reported as missing in action, and it would not be until August 1917 that he was officially declared to have been killed in action at Fromelles.

John De Melker was 34 years old.

With no known grave, his name is listed on the VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial at Fromelles, which commemorates 1,100 soldiers who died in that terrible battle.

His 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 Sergeant John Henry Wiltch De Melker, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

David Sutton
Historian, Military History Section

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