The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1581) Private Alfred Anders, 2nd Machine Gun Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.335
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 30 November 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 Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (1581) Private Alfred Anders, 2nd Machine Gun Battalion, AIF, First World War.

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Speech transcript

1581 Private Alfred Anders, 2nd Machine Gun Battalion, AIF
DOW: 4 September 1918

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Alfred Anders.

Alfred Anders was born in 1890, the youngest son of Charles and Ellen Anders of Moama, Victoria. His father worked various jobs, including as a labourer and a drover. A violent drunk, he eventually deserted the family when the children were small. In 1898, during one of Charles’s rare visits to the family in Echuca, the four-roomed weatherboard house caught fire and burned to the ground. The family received help from many in the community to recover. Young Alfred was educated at the Echuca State School, and went on to work as a butcher in the Echuca and Benalla districts.

In 1913 Alfred Anders married Agnes Thompson from Balranald, and they had a daughter, Alvie, the following year. Agnes’s health began to fail when Alvie was just a small baby, and in early 1915 she contracted typhoid fever. Agnes Anders died in February 1915, leaving Alfred a widower with a nine-month-old baby to look after. Perhaps overwhelmed by his loss, less than a fortnight later Alfred left Alvie with his mother and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force.

Anders left Australia in May 1915 with reinforcements to the 23rd Infantry Battalion. He was first sent to Egypt, where he was joined by his older brother Arthur, who had enlisted from Queensland. Arthur was able to transfer to Alfred’s battalion, and they would go to Gallipoli together.

The Anders brothers arrived on Gallipoli after the major fighting of the last offensive had died down. In late October Arthur was wounded in the leg and evacuated to hospital, leaving Alfred to stay on Gallipoli until the evacuation. After returning to Egypt, Alfred transferred to the 6th Machine Gun Company and continued training in the desert for several months before going to France. He initially served as a driver in the company, but after being kicked by a horse and suffering a badly damaged knee, he requested to revert to private.

Alfred Anders’ first experience of warfare on the Western Front came at Pozieres in July and August 1916. He later described how “myself and other gunners were in a small dugout, when a 5 foot 9-inch high-explosive shell hit the roof and away it went. A dull thud, a bright red flash, blue stars, smoke and dust, and broken timber hitting our steel hats, was the sensation we got. It seems marvellous that not one of us was hit at all, for if the shell had hit the end or gone through the roof without bursting, we would have been blown to atoms.” Anders lost his belongings in the blast, later writing “I did not wait to look for them when I got out of the wreckage.”

After the Australian battalions left Pozieres, they were sent to Belgium to recover in a quieter sector of the line. During this time Alfred’s brother Arthur had been working to be transferred to his brother’s unit. He joined Alfred in the 6th Machine Gun Company in October 1916, just as it was being sent back to the Somme.

Less than a month later, the 6th Machine Gun company took part in an attack on the Somme. Alfred Anders remained in reserve, while his brother was sent forward with a gun crew to assist the 7th Brigade’s attack on Bayonet Trench. Private Arthur Anders was killed with four others in shell-fire while waiting to be relieved. Alf went forward to bury his brother’s body but was unable to do so because of the ongoing shell-fire. One of the officers killed with Arthur was the third brother in his family to be killed in action; perhaps as a result of this, Alfred was kept behind the lines for most of the fighting at Flers following the death of his brother.

Alfred was relatively matter of fact about what he called his “exceptionally unfortunate and sad circumstances”, but wrote, “It is a consolation to know that he suffered no pain, and that he could not have died a more noble death than to the cause of right and freedom. It is the will of the Lord, and we must abide with it at all times.”

Alfred Anders spent a considerable amount of time in hospital in 1917. First it was with further problems with his knee, and later in the year he was struck by a shell fragment and wounded in the arm. He spent Christmas 1917 in London on leave, and the first three-and-a-half months of 1918 training on Salisbury Plain.

By the time Alfred Anders was ready to return to the front in April 1918 the machine-gun companies had been reorganised and he was made a member of the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion. On 8 August the Australian Corps played a central role in launching the great British offensive that would be known as the Battle of Amiens. The 2nd Machine Gun Battalion played an important part in the advance, which captured an unprecedented amount of ground, enemy prisoners and materiel.

From that point until the end of the war, the machine-gun battalions were in regular rotation as the infantry ground back the enemy, slowly pushing the Germans back towards the Hindenburg Line. By early September the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion, attached to the 7th Brigade, had advanced through the village of Allaines. During the early hours of 3 September they were dealing with resistance from a few large but isolated parties of German soldiers.

At some point during this series of encounters, Private Alfred Anders was shot in the abdomen. He was carried out to the 41st Casualty Clearing Station, where he died of his wounds on the 4th of September 1918. The war ended just five weeks later.

Alf Anders was buried at Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres, where his remains lie today under the words “There is a link death cannot sever; fond remembrance clings forever.” His brother is buried 30 km away with the same epitaph. Their mother was left to raise Alvie alone.

The names of the Anders brothers are 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 Alfred Anders, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section

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