The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (6737) Private Hugh Hillam, 29th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.356
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 21 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 Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (6737) Private Hugh Hillam, 29th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

6737 Private Hugh Hillam, 29th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF
KIA 12 April 1918

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Hugh Hillam.
Hugh Hillam was born in 1895 to Samuel and Jean Hillam, in Dawson, South Australia. Hillam’s mother died when he was an infant. Some years later, his father remarried and the family moved to Yathella, near Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. There, Hillam attended the local school and later became a farmer in the district.

Hillam’s older brother Priestly joined the Australian Imperial Force in early April 1915. Perhaps following his example, Hillam and his eldest brother James volunteered to enlist in July 1916. The two brothers completed initial training in Australia before sailing on the transport ship Port Napier in mid-November 1916. Hillam spent time in the ship’s hospital with mumps, but recovered before the ship’s arrival in England at the end of January 1917.

In England, Hillam completed his initial training at the army camps on Salisbury Plain. He sailed for France in March, where he joined the 29th Australian Infantry Battalion. At this time, his unit was in the region of the Somme River in a reserve position. The men spent time in rifle practice, machine-gun demonstrations, and improving and extending trenches.

In the middle of the year, the British commanders had shifted their focus north, to the section of the frontline around the Belgian town of Ypres. In July 1917, the 29th Battalion moved north to the border with Belgium, where they prepared for a major assault that would take place in autumn.

At the end of September, Hillam and his unit entered battle at Polygon Wood, east of Ypres. The battalion rapidly captured all of its objectives, and then withstood six German counter-attacks over the following five hours. Having successfully held the ground, the unit then rotated between time in the frontline and in rear areas during the winter of 1917 and 1918.

With the collapse of the Russian Empire in late 1917 and Russia’s withdrawal from the war, German commanders were able to concentrate their forces on the Western Front. Beginning in March 1918, German high command launched a massive attack, seeking to force Britain and France to the negotiation table. This attack, which became known as the German Spring Offensive, lasted several months. The 29th Battalion was in a reserve position in the Somme valley sector during this time.

On 12 April 1918, the unit was bombed by German aircraft and came under an artillery barrage. Hillam was killed in action. The records do not indicate the precise cause of death, but it was likely a result of being hit by a bomb or artillery shell. He was 23 years old.

Hugh Hillam is buried near where he was killed, in Adelaide Cemetery in Villers-Bretonneux, France, alongside more than 900 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War. His grieving father had his headstone inscribed with the epitaph: “In memory of my dear son who died for King, home, and country”.

Hugh Hillam’s eldest brother, Private James Hillam, who had sailed to the war on the same ship as his brother, served with him in the 29th Battalion, and was wounded at Polygon Wood. He recovered and returned to the front, before returning to Australia in July 1919. Hillam’s older brother Private Priestly Hillam served with the 2nd Pioneer Battalion and returned to Australia in September 1919.

Many members of the extended Hillam family served in the First World War, and two of Hugh’s cousins also died. Private Allan Hillam of the 3rd Battalion was killed in Belgium during the German Spring Offensive in March 1918. Private George Hillam, of the 43rd Battalion, died of illness in France in July 1917.

Private Hugh Hillam 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 Hugh Hillam, 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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