The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (7325) Private Robert Alexander Smith, 2nd Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2021.1.1.39
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 8 February 2021
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 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 Tristan Rallings, the story for this day was on (7325) Private Robert Alexander Smith, 2nd Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

7325 Private Robert Alexander Smith, 2nd Battalion, AIF
DOW: 13 April 1918

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Robert Alexander Smith.

Robert Smith was born in 1884 in Crudine, New South Wales, the son of William and Matilda Smith. He attended school in the town and later became a labourer in the district.

In November 1916, Smith was successful in enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force, having previously having been rejected on medical grounds. He trained in Australia for a brief period, and then sailed from Sydney on the transport ship Osterley in February 1917. After arriving in England in April, he continued his training for several months. He crossed the English Channel and joined the 2nd Battalion in Belgium in early October.

When Smith arrived, his battalion had taken part in the heavy fighting known as the Third Battle of Ypres. Since entering battle in late September, the battalion had lost one-third of its strength as casualties. The battalion moved into reserve areas and remained near Ypres over the winter months, alternating between periods of training and time in the front lines.

In January 1918, Smith contracted a skin infection and was evacuated to hospital, where he remained until the end of March. In mid-March 1918, German forces launched what was to be their last major assault of the war. Known as the German Spring Offensive, it aimed to capture the important rail-hub city of Amiens. Many Australian units were rushed south from Belgium to the Somme River sector. The 2nd Battalion remained in the Ypres sector until the end of March, moving south to the Somme on the first day of April.

Smith re-joined his unit in France in early April. He and some other men of the unit were loading the battalion’s gear and supplies on to trains near Amiens when German aircraft bombed the railway station. Struck by bomb fragments and wounded, Smith was taken to a casualty clearing station. Two days later, on 13 April 1918, he died of his wounds. He was 33 years old.

Today Robert Smith’s remains lie buried in Namps-au-Val British Cemetery.

In 1920, Robert’s older brother George wrote to his local member of parliament to enquire when his brother’s personal belongings would arrive in Australia. In fact, Smith’s personal effects had been sent home, bound for Australia on the steam ship Barunga, when that ship was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Cornwall in July 1918. British ships were soon on the scene and managed to rescue all aboard, but the personal effects of Smith were lost, along with those of about 5,000 other Australian soldiers who had died on the Western Front.

Smith’s nephew, Private James Alfred Smith of the 53rd Battalion, also served in the AIF. He was struck by shrapnel near Amiens, and had died of his wounds only two days before Robert’s death. He was buried in the same cemetery as his uncle.

Private Robert Alexander Smith 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 Robert Alexander Smith, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Thomas Rogers
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (7325) Private Robert Alexander Smith, 2nd Battalion, AIF, First World War. (video)