The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (2633) Private Harold Lancelot Douglas, 51st Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.250
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 September 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 Tristan Rallings, the story for this day was on (2633) Private Harold Lancelot Douglas, 51st Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

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Speech transcript

2633 Private Harold Lancelot Douglas, 51st Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF
KIA: 3 September 1916

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Harold Lancelot Douglas.

Harold Lancelot Douglas was born in April 1889 in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville, the son of Lancelot and Mary Douglas. When he was nine years old, his parents divorced, and he moved with his mother and two older sisters to Western Australia. Known as “Algy” to his family and friends, he attended Highgate Hill school in Perth. After completing a woodworking apprenticeship, he moved to the small farming town of Wagin, south-east of Perth, where he worked as a wood machinist.

In August 1915, Douglas travelled to Perth to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. He trained at Blackboy Hill army camp for several weeks before embarking on the transport ship Ulysses in early November.

When Douglas marched into the Australian army training camps in Egypt, the last of the Australian troops had been withdrawn from the Gallipoli peninsula after the failure of that campaign. He was one of a large number of new enlistees whose arrival allowed the AIF to effectively double in size. Each of the new units was made up of Gallipoli veterans and recent reinforcements from Australia, so that there were men in each unit with combat experience. Douglas joined one of these new units, the 51st Australian Infantry Battalion.

In June 1916, the men of the 51st Battalion sailed to southern France, and from there travelled by train to the Somme River in the north. In August, the battalion entered battle on the Western Front for the first time. Its objective was a trench line just south of a large farmhouse named Mouquet Farm that had been reduced to rubble by shelling. In the assault, the unit faced heavy German machine-gun and rifle fire, and lost over three hundred men killed, wounded or missing. It was forced to withdraw from the objective.

On 3 September 1916, the 51st Battalion once again assaulted the ruined farmhouse. On reaching the position, they discovered that deep cellars existed underground, and from these positions large numbers of German soldiers emerged in a counter-attack. Again, the battalion was forced to withdraw, this time suffering over 370 killed, wounded, or missing. The battalion had lost two-thirds of its soldiers in less than month. Douglas was one of the men presumed killed in the fighting. He was 27 years old.

Harold Douglas’s remains were never found. His name is inscribed on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in France, alongside the names of over 10,000 Australian men who were killed in the First World War and have no known grave.

Early in 1917, a wounded man from the 51st Battalion told the Red Cross that he had seen Douglas killed at Mouquet Farm by machine-gun fire. It was only in May 1917, seven months after his death, that Douglas’s family received official confirmation that he had been killed. He was survived by his older sisters Hilda and Lorna. Unbeknownst to them, Harold’s estranged father Lancelot was also still alive in Sydney. In 1918, he enquired after a name he had seen in the newspaper casualty lists, and he was informed that his son had been killed.

Private Harold Lancelot Douglas 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 Harold Lancelot Douglas, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Thomas Rogers
Historian, Military History Section

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