The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (4230) Private Thomas Amos Lewis, 2nd Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.341
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 December 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 , the story for this day was on (4230) Private Thomas Amos Lewis, 2nd Battalion, AIF, First World War.

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Speech transcript

4230 Private Thomas Amos Lewis, 2nd Battalion, AIF
KIA 24 July 1916

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Thomas Amos Lewis.

Thomas Lewis was born in Boorowa, New South Wales, in 1895, the son of Johanna and William Lewis.

Before European settlement the area was occupied by the Wiradjuri Nation, and the name of the village was taken from the local language word for the Australian bustard, commonly known as the bush turkey
The early days of Boorowa were marked by lawlessness and mayhem, boundary disputes, theft, arson, and murder; bushrangers roamed the surrounding mountainous land, making raids into nearby towns and stations.

With the introduction of the Robertson Land Acts in 1861, there was a new land grab and large numbers of settlers, particularly paroled convicts, applied for “selections” of land.

Thomas Lewis’s grandfather, Amos, was one of the first Aboriginals to own a farming lease, granted in 1875. Thomas’s great-grandmother, Nananya Mary, was a Ngunnawal woman from the Yass area, and his great-grandfather was a wealthy landowner Paul Huon, the son of French pioneer Gabriel Louis Marie Huon de Kerilleau, who arrived in Australia after fleeing the French Revolution.

Thomas grew up with his siblings Olive, Martha, Violet, Mary, Vera, Evelyn, William, Gertrude, Nellie and John, initially around Pudman Creek. The family moved to Sydney when he was very young, and came to live and work in the suburbs of Redfern and Newtown.

Thomas attended Cleveland Street Public School, which at that stage provided only primary education, and went on to work as a clothing cutter.

In September 1915, both Thomas and his father, William, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force.

William was allotted to the 2nd Australian Remount Unit – which was formed to care for the horses left behind in Egypt when the Light Horse departed for Gallipoli – and returned to Australia when his unit was disbanded in 1916.
Thomas was allotted to reinforcements to the 33rd Battalion, and in late December embarked from Sydney on the troopship Aeneas, bound for the Middle East.

On reaching the training camps on the outskirts of Cairo, Private Lewis joined the 1st Training Battalion. The AIF had regathered in Egypt after the evacuation from Gallipoli and undertook the process of expanding and reorganising, effectively doubling in size, forming new battalions from a mixture of reinforcements and experienced soldiers.

Lewis was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, which had sustained heavy casualties at Lone Pine. With the battalion brought up to full strength, training began in earnest for the fighting on the Western Front.
Landing in France in March, Lewis and his comrades travelled north by railway and in early April arrived at a relatively quiet sector of the line near Armentieres known as the “nursery sector”. Here the men had their first experiences of trench warfare.

While high command had hoped to keep their presence a secret, by late April it was obvious that the Germans were aware they were facing Australian troops. A signal lamp flashed Morse code from the trench opposite the 2nd Battalion: “Australians go home”. Despite being given orders against responding, the reply went out: “Why?”
The 2nd Battalion’s first major action came at the battle of Pozieres in July 1916. The men entered the line on the night of 19 July, and just after midnight – having endured an approach march through a gas attack – arrived at their position opposite the south-western side of the village.

On 23 July the attack began. After an intense artillery barrage, the 2nd Battalion moved into no man’s land just after midnight. The men advanced over broken ground under the direction of officers whose job it was to ensure that they did not get ahead of the creeping artillery barrage. Probing forward to locate enemy defences, they found an abandoned trench amongst a group of tree stumps and stopped briefly, before pushing forward again.

The Germans counter-attacked at dawn, and early the following morning opened up with a devastating artillery barrage. The men of the 2nd Battalion suffered terribly in the open trenches and were thankful to be relieved by the 7th Battalion. When the Australians managed to capture the village of Pozieres, they were subjected to relentless artillery bombardment that reduced the village to rubble and inflicted a devastating toll: 23,000 were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner, leading Charles Bean to write that Pozieres ridge “is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth”.

In the aftermath of the battle, Lewis was reported missing. An inquest soon determined that he had been killed in action on 28 July 1916.

Sergeant Colin Lutton, who was in Thomas’ Lewis gun section reported:
Lewis was killed with two others in our front line trenches in the cemetery on the outskirts of Pozieres … A shell exploded, and killed several, burying Lewis. He was dug out as quickly as follows, but when the body was recovered, it was found he was dead.

William Smitheram had known Lewis well, the two had left Australia together with the same group of reinforcements. “We called him ‘Tommy’”, he told the Red Cross. “He and I were in the same machine gun section.”

Private Harold Clarke, then in a convalescent camp in France, described how he and others had buried Lewis just behind the line, and put a cross over his grave.

Lewis’s makeshift grave was lost, and today he is one of over 10,000 Australian soldiers who died in France and Belgium during the First World War commemorated on the Australian National Memorial at Villers–Bretonneux.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among more than 60,000 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 Thomas Amos Lewis, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

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