The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX45350) Private Ralph William Metcalfe, 2/1st Battalion, Second Worl War.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.261
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 September 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

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 Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (NX45350) Private Ralph William Metcalfe, 2/1st Battalion, Second Worl War.

Speech transcript

NX45350 Private Ralph William Metcalfe, 2/1st Battalion
KIA 23 October 1942

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Ralph William Metcalfe.

Ralph Metcalfe was born on 25 September 1918 to Ralph and Jessie Metcalfe. Born in the Sydney suburb of Granville, he spent a considerable part of his childhood in and around Kiama, where most of his brothers and sisters were born. During this time his father worked on the New State Quarry. At least one of his siblings, a sister called Jessie, died in infancy and was buried in North Kiama. Around 1930 the family moved to Merrylands near Parramatta, and Ralph went to work for the Plashett Pastoral Company as a dairy farmer. He was described as “a young man of outstanding character” and had a large circle of friends, one of whom became his fiancée, a Miss B. Killin of Jerry’s Plains.

Ralph Metcalfe enlisted in the second Australian Imperial Force in June 1940. He was posted to the 4th Battalion in Newcastle, and later in the year was sent to Tamworth to continue his infantry training. He did not leave Australia for active service overseas until April 1941, when he was sent to the Middle East.

In mid-June Private Metcalfe was marched out to the 2/1st Battalion, which had fought at Bardia and Tobruk before being sent to Greece and Crete, where the majority of its men were captured. Metcalfe was part of the cadre of new recruits that rebuilt the battalion in Palestine. He remained with the newly-rebuilt formation as it manned defensive positions in northern Syria before departing by sea in March 1942.

The 2/1st Battalion was initially destined for Australia, but was diverted to Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) due to fears of an imminent Japanese invasion. After several months of manning defensive positions there, it became clear that the invasion was not going to come, so the battalion returned to Australia.

Private Metcalfe was granted disembarkation leave after arriving back in Australia in August 1942. Just a few weeks later he left Australia again, this time for New Guinea.
The 2/1st Battalion arrived at Port Moresby on 22 of September 1942, and began training immediately. Five days later it was determined that the battalion would form the “vanguard of a force moving eastward along [the Kokoda] track”. Rain fell during their first march to Sam’s Corner, and from the outset the going was hard.
After several days at Jawarere, the battalion moved on up the Ioribaiwa Range, passing “the graves of Australian soldiers marked ‘killed in action’.” The war diary notes that the “journey became one long climb which appeared unending. Steps have been cut along the path but [the] going is very arduous and slow.”

On 16 October word was received that the 33rd Battalion had been pushed back by the Japanese north of Eora Creek. The 2/1st began aggressively patrolling in search of the enemy. Three days later they moved forward to relieve the Australians holding Templeton’s Crossing against the Japanese advance.

On 22 October 1942, after a quiet night, parts of the 2/1st moved towards Eora Creek village to try to determine the enemy’s positions. It was soon established that the enemy were in the village “in some force”. Although the Australian attack stalled in the daylight, as night fell the battalion was ordered to press on, and fierce fighting continued through the following day.

At some point on 23 October 1942, Private Ralph Metcalfe was killed in action. It is not clear whether he was one of two men killed by mortar fire in the morning, or if he was part of the heavy casualties sustained by D Company as they attempted to skirt around enemy positions.

Despite the desperate situation, his body was carefully buried by his comrades. After the war it was brought down from the heights, and today Private Ralph Metcalfe lies in the Bomana War Cemetery in Port Moresby under the words “His duty nobly done”. He was 24 years old.
His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 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 Ralph William Metcalfe, 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 (NX45350) Private Ralph William Metcalfe, 2/1st Battalion, Second Worl War. (video)