The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX20820) Private Henry Welch, 2/22nd Australian Infantry Battalion, Second World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.208
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 26 July 2020
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
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 (VX20820) Private Henry Welch, 2/22nd Australian Infantry Battalion, Second World War.

Speech transcript

VX20820 Private Henry Welch, 2/22nd Australian Infantry Battalion
Presumed 15 February 1942

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Henry Welch.

Henry Welch was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on 10 September 1909, the son of Henry and Jane Welch.
By 1940, Welch was living and working in Terang, a town in the Western District of Victoria, around 200 kilometres south-west of Melbourne.

He enlisted at Terang on 18 May 1940 and not long afterwards entered Caulfield Camp. In July he was posted to the newly raised 2/22nd Infantry Battalion, which moved to Trawool in central Victoria for training.

In late September the 2/22nd moved to Bonegilla on the New South Wales–Victoria border, making the journey on foot, and resumed training. Welch was found absent without leave in October, and was confined to barracks for a week and fined as punishment.

The 2/22nd continued training until leaving for Sydney, ultimately bound for New Britain, in mid-April 1941. Before embarking for overseas service, Welch married Marjorie Brown.

On 18 April 1941, Welch and his comrades embarked from Sydney, arriving at Rabaul just over a week later.

Here they combined with the local unit of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, a coastal defence battery, an anti-aircraft battery, and elements of the 2/10th Field Ambulance and 17th Anti-tank Battery to form Lark Force. Lark Force’s role was to protect nearby airfields and the seaplane base at Rabaul, and to provide early warning of Japanese movements through the islands to Australia’s north. Despite being ill-equipped, the men spent the following months constructing defences and training for operation in a tropical environment.

Japanese bombing of New Britain began in early January 1942, increasing in intensity as the month continued. By the morning of 22 January, 24 Squadron was virtually destroyed and its three remaining aircraft were withdrawn. With no use for the airstrips, they were destroyed and Lark Force withdrew from Rabaul, waiting on the western shores of Blanche Bay for the inevitable Japanese landings.

These began after midnight. By 9 am, communication failures and overwhelming Japanese strength had destroyed the cohesion of the Australian defence. It is estimated that against the original garrison of 1,400, the Japanese landed 17,000 men in the immediate vicinity of Rabaul.

Lark Force commander, Colonel John Scanlan, ordered a withdrawal on the basis of “every man for himself”. Unprepared for retreat, chaos ensued, and Lark Force disintegrated.

Over the following days, groups of men, ranging from company-strength to pairs and individuals, sought to escape along New Britain's north and south coasts. Some found small boats, while others were picked up by larger vessels operating from New Guinea. Around 400 members of Lark Force managed to return to Australia, 300 of which were members of the 2/22nd.

About 160 Australians captured by the Japanese while trying to escape were massacred at Tol Plantation and another 836 were interned as prisoners of war.

Henry Welch was declared presumed death on 15 February 1942, having been taken prisoner of war. He was 32 years old.

With no known grave, he is commemorated at the Rabaul Memorial.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among more than 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 Private Henry Welch, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Duncan Beard
Editor, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX20820) Private Henry Welch, 2/22nd Australian Infantry Battalion, Second World War. (video)