The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of

Places
Accession Number AWM2021.1.1.3
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 3 January 2021
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
Description

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 (VX4429) Lance Sergeant Peter Millar, 2/6th Australian Infantry Battalion, Second World War.

Speech transcript

VX4429 Lance Sergeant Peter Millar, 2/6th Australian Infantry Battalion
KIA 3 January 1941

Today we remember and pay tribute to Lance Sergeant Peter Millar.

Peter Millar was born on 1 February 1918 in Musselburgh, Scotland, the son of Robert and Grace Millar.

Young Peter emigrated to Australia with his immediate family when he was ten years old, arriving in Melbourne, where they would live in the suburbs of Elsternwick and Kew. Peter worked for his father as a grocer.

Twelve days after Australia followed Britain into war against Germany in September 1939, the government decided to raise a division for overseas service: the 6th Division.

Millar was quick to enlist, doing so on 21 October at Brighton. This made him one of the first men to join this new division. It also made him a “Thirty-niner” – the nickname for those who enlisted in 1939. It was a badge of great pride to be a Thirty-niner. Raised on the feats of the Anzacs and keen to uphold the legend, the Thirty-niners were referred to as “the first and the finest”.

As one writer later commented: “They had joined in 1939 when the war was still half a world away and Britain was still posturing. They joined for the adventure and for the travel; the joined with their mates, for it was ‘the thing to do’.”

Transferred to Puckapunyal for training in November, Millar was posted to the 2/6th Battalion. His leadership qualities were soon evident, and on 12 January 1940 he was promoted to corporal.

After rudimentary training, in mid-April the battalion embarked for the Middle East on the transport ship Neuralia, departing from Melbourne and sailing via Fremantle, Colombo, Aden, and the Suez Canal.

Reaching the Middle East in mid-May, the battalion established itself around Beit Jirja, and continued training. Far from the rolling paddocks of Puckapunyal, the men were now training among the stony hills of Palestine and the dry expanses of the Egyptian desert.

Millar continued to be promoted, and was appointed lance sergeant on 1 June. He attended courses in Palestine, and was briefly detached as a divisional security guard at Gaza.
In early January 1941 the 2/6th Battalion became one of the first Australian battalions to fight in the Western Desert Campaign when it took part in the Battle of Bardia in Libya. Millar’s unit was ordered to attack an enemy-held wadi near the Italian stronghold in Bardia.

Members of the unit had advanced to within half a kilometre of the wadi: a dried-up watercourse which ran roughly east–west across their front. On the northern bank was a fortified strong-point, defended by barbed wire obstacles, and covered by fire from fortified posts and machine-guns.

Before dawn on 3 January 1941, two platoons crossed the open ground to the south, their silhouettes revealed by the flashes of artillery lighting the skyline. As they neared the Italian defences, a machine-gun opened up before being knocked out by an Australian hand grenade.

As the Australians got closer, their artillery fire stopped: any closer and they risked casualties from their own guns. Once they had gone through the wire, the men rose to their feet and raced forward shouting. Only then did the Italians fire. As the Australians went to ground, Italian hand grenades started to fall among the dead and wounded. Some returned fire, but it had little effect.

The men could only reach the outer trenches, where they fought and died. While the greater attack on Bardia proved to be an outstanding success, the casualties at this post were horrific. Forty-eight men had gone into the attack, four returned. Peter Millar had reportedly organised a bayonet attack against an Italian machine-gun position, and was later killed by an Italian soldier who had just surrendered.

The bodies of the dead were recovered when the post was recaptured, and they were buried in the desert.

Among those who survived was Sergeant “Jo” Gullett, who provided an account of the battle that formed the basis for Ivor Hele’s painting Bardia (action leading to the fall of Post 11). The painting was commissioned by the Memorial and now appears in the Second World War Galleries.

Today the body of Lance Sergeant Peter Millar lies in the Halfaya Sollum War Cemetery in Egypt under the inscription, “Resting where no shadows fall. In peace he awaits us all”.

He was 22 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 Lance Sergeant Peter Millar, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Duncan Beard
Editor, Military History Section

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