|Object type||Last Post film|
Australian War Memorial
|Place made||Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell|
|Date made||31 October 2020|
First World War, 1914-1918
Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
|Copying Provisions||Copy provided for personal non-commercial use|
The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1564) Private Joseph Stanley Saxon, 22nd Battalion, AIF, First World War.
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 Joanne Smedley, the story for this day was on (1564) Private Joseph Stanley Saxon, 22nd Battalion, AIF, First World War.
1564 Private Joseph Stanley Saxon, 22nd Battalion, AIF
KIA: 4 August 1916
2708 Private Bertie Henry Saxon, 2nd Pioneer Battalion, AIF
DOW: 6 October 1918
Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Joseph Stanley Saxon and Private Bertie Henry Saxon.
Bertie Saxon, affectionately known as “Punkin” by his family, was born in 1891 to John and Isabella Saxon of Euroa, Victoria. Six years later, in December 1897, his brother Joseph, known as “Joe”, was born.
Their father was a farmer, and the brothers grew up in a very large family. Their mother was described as “a super-store of energy that enabled her – while rearing a large family to honoured citizenship – to take an active interest in many movements having the welfare of the town or the district as their aim.”
Joe and Bertie were bright children who won prizes at Euroa State School and at Presbyterian Sunday School. After a brief period working as a plumber, Joe went on to work as a driver and assistant grocer. Bertie – now known as “Bert” – worked as a draper’s assistant before becoming a printer – working for another brother, Tom, who was the proprietor of the Sentinel newspaper in Violet Town.
Six sons of the Saxon family served during the First World War. Two worked in ammunition production. Joe was the second of four sons to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force; he did this in April 1915, putting his age up by more than a year to do so. Bert – who was only 5 feet 2 inches or 157 centimetres tall – was the last to enlist in May 1916, after having to wait for height restrictions to be lowered. All four brothers would serve in different units.
Bert’s pre-embarkation training took a little longer than usual, as it was interrupted by sickness which sent him home to Euroa for a while. Bert was fit to leave Australia for active service with reinforcements to the 2nd Pioneer Battalion in September 1916.
Joe had left in June 1916 with reinforcements to the 22nd Battalion. He was first sent to Egypt before joining the fighting on Gallipoli, where his brother William , known as “Shinner”, was serving with the 7th Battalion. Shinner wrote to say, “Brother Joe has arrived. I saw him yesterday in the trenches … you don’t know how pleased I was to see him looking so fit and well.”
Their brother Tom arrived on Gallipoli late in the campaign with the 21st Battalion. In December 1915 he wrote, “brothers Shinner and Joe came to see me yesterday—we are now less than a mile apart. I thought it must have been a rather rare occurrence for three brothers in three different units to meet in Gallipoli.” Tom’s work was pushing a wheelbarrow up and down a hill, and his brothers sat down to laugh at him. Tom recalled, “I made them both take a turn, and ‘Shin’ reckoned it was a ‘rotten caper’, and Joe soon said ‘the game was no bloomin’ good to him’.”
A few weeks later the Anzacs left Gallipoli, and returned to Egypt for a period of training and reorganisation. While in Egypt the three brothers attended the funeral of their cousin Michael Corbett, who had been killed when his rifle accidentally discharged while he was cleaning it. From Egypt they were sent to France to fight on the Western Front.
On 23 July 1916 the 1st Australian Division captured the French village of Pozieres in a hard-fought battle against well-fortified positions. From that point, the Australians needed to capture two strongly-held German trenches to the north-east, known as the OG lines. On 4 August they advanced into no man’s land. The operation failed, as hundreds of men advanced into strings of uncut barbed wire. Many standing up to cut their way through were mown down by enemy machine-gun fire.
The 22nd Battalion suffered more than 650 casualties that day, from a total strength of nearly 1,000. One of the many missing men was Private Joe Saxon. For months the Saxon family did not know what had happened to him. Shinner had been badly wounded at Pozieres, but Tom Saxon was still fit. He wrote, “I can’t get into touch with brother Joe’s battalion to find out how he is, and I am a bit anxious about him. You will know [before] this that ‘Shinner’ was wounded … I wish I could get news of Joe. Our boys have been up against it as never before.”
Bert Saxon arrived in France to fight on the Western Front on New Year’s Eve 1916. Within a few weeks, he was experiencing the work of the pioneers, building roads relatively close to the front line.
While in France, Bert tried to found out what had happened to his brother Joe. A few months after his arrival he wrote home to say that someone he had talked to “is confident that he read the name [Joe Saxon] in a list of prisoners that appeared in the Weekly Times.”
As time went by, however, hope slipped away. Major Roy Wiltshire, also of Euroa, made inquiries. He wrote to Mrs. Saxon that he could “not clear up what happened to Joe but the noise and din of action and the dreadful nature of the ground at Pozieres renders this quite understandable … I fear that chance of his being a prisoner of war is very remote – we should have been advised long ago if he was in Germany.”
Formal enquiries by authorities finally found some witnesses to Private Joe Saxon’s fate. Private Collinshaw reported that Joe Saxon was in the OG Lines on the night of 3 August and left with a message for headquarters. “Immediately after leaving the trenches,” he reported, Saxon “was caught by a shell, and practically blown to pieces.” It was not until late 1917 that the family were formally notified of Joe’s death, by which time Shinner had been repatriated wounded, and Tom was also in hospital wounded.
In the second half of 1917 the 2nd Pioneer Battalion was in Belgium supporting operations around the town of Ypres. Bert Saxon wrote, “Our work in these stunts was putting down roads, so the artillery and ammunition could get up. It has been pretty exciting work, too, as we have been under heavy shell fire practically all the time, and of course, came in for our share of casualties.”
Bert himself came in for a few near misses, describing one time when “my mates and myself were unfortunate to get a good possie [under cover], so we just crouched as close to the ground as we could. The shells were dropping very close to us, covering us with mud and water, and we were expecting to be blown sky-high at any moment. It was raining at the time, and I can tell you we looked sorry spectacles when daylight came.”
In early 1918 the German Army launched a large-scale offensive that seriously threatened the allied line. The 2nd Pioneer Battalion, still in Belgium, were rushed south. By the time the German advance was slowed, Saxon and his mates were exhausted by extended hours of hard work on little rest and food.
By mid-1918 Bert Saxon was the only one of the four brothers in the AIF remaining in France. Joe had been killed, and Tom and Will had been badly wounded, and were sent home to Australia to recover. In August the Australian Corps took part in the battle of Amiens, one of the great advances of the war. However, Bert Saxon’s pioneer battalion had little to do during the initial stages of the advance, and instead he described “following up after the infantry, putting in a couple of days at different places, doing odd jobs on roads, preparing and making light bridges and such other work… it’s marvellous how [the infantry] keep [the Germans] going, when one looks over the country they have to advance on.”
Private Bert Saxon had begun the year writing, “There is little need to worry about me, I came through one of the biggest stunts we have had here without a scratch, so I think, after my many escapes, I’ll go through the rest with the same good luck.” It was not to be. On 5 October 1918, while working on a road near the front lines, Bert Saxon was shot in the neck. He was taken to a nearby casualty clearing station, where he died the following day.
Today Bertie Saxon lies in Tincourt New British Cemetery. Bert Saxon was 27 years old.
His headstone also stands as a memorial to his brother Joe, whose body was never recovered from the battlefield. He has no known grave to this day. Today Joe is commemorated on the Australian National Memorial. Joe’s mother carefully recorded that when her son died he was “18 years, 8 months and 18 or 19 days” old.
The brothers’ names are listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among almost 62,000 Australians who died while serving in the First World War.
These are but two of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private Joseph Stanley Saxon and Private Bertie Saxon, who gave their lives for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.
Historian, Military History Section
Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1564) Private Joseph Stanley Saxon, 22nd Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)