The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (393) Private Brian Higgins, 25th Infantry Battalion, AIF and (114) Trooper Thomas John Higgins, 5th Light Horse Regiment, AIF, First World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2021.1.1.52
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 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 Joanne Smedley, the story for this day was on (393) Private Brian Higgins, 25th Infantry Battalion, AIF and (114) Trooper Thomas John Higgins, 5th Light Horse Regiment, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

393 Private Brian Higgins, 25th Infantry Battalion, AIF
KIA 29 July 1916

114 Trooper Thomas John Higgins, 5th Light Horse Regiment, AIF
KIA 28 June 1915

Today we remember and pay tribute to Trooper Thomas John Higgins and Private Brian Higgins.

Thomas Higgins was born on 25 January 1882 in Bundaberg, Queensland, the first son born to Brian and Mary Higgins. The following year, Thomas’s brother Brian was born, on 5 August 1883, the second son born to the couple.

Their father, Brian Higgins senior, had been born in County Clare in Ireland. He emigrated to Australia and made his way to Brisbane, working on the railways, before taking up farming and eventually becoming a councillor in the Noosa Shire.

He and his wife, Mary, went on to raise a large family at Cole’s Creek near Cooran, a small farming town on the North Coast railway line, 125 kilometres north of Brisbane.
The young Higgins children probably went to Cooran State School, the oldest school in the district, and regularly attended the local Roman Catholic Church.
Thomas, who had been working as a farmer, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force barely a month after the declaration of war. He was posted to B Squadron of the 5th Light Horse Regiment, and in December left Sydney aboard the troopship Persic.

The light horse were initially considered unsuitable for operations on Gallipoli, but were later deployed without horses to reinforce the infantry. Thomas’s unit landed on the Peninsula in late May 1915 and was attached to the 1st Australian Division.

After about a month on Gallipoli, on 28 June, Thomas Higgins was killed in action at Anzac Cove. He was buried the following day at Shell Green Cemetery. He was 33.
By then, Brian Higgins junior, who was a selector, had already followed in his brother’s footsteps, enlisting in the AIF in February 1915. He was assigned to B Company of the 25th Battalion and left Brisbane for overseas service on 29 June, the day after his brother had been killed.
After training in the desert camps outside of Cairo, by early September Private Brian Higgins and his battalion were manning trenches on Gallipoli.

His early letters home were published in the local paper, providing a good account of his time on Gallipoli:
[We] have been some months living like rabbits burrowed deep into the earth. We have not had much fighting to do since landing … an occasional fierce artillery duel gives us an idea of what the lads who were here before us had to suffer … Seeing the condition of the men who have borne the brunt I can never be sufficiently thankful that I had the courage to leave a happy life and come out and give them a hand. My one regret is that I did not do it sooner.

By November the unsanitary living conditions had taken their toll, and Higgins was evacuated, suffering from jaundice. Transferred to hospital ship before being taken to a convalescent depot in Egypt, he rejoined his battalion in late January. By then the Gallipoli campaign had been abandoned, and the AIF was in the process of expanding and reorganising in preparation for joining the fighting on the Western Front.

In March 1916 the 25th Battalion landed in France, the first AIF battalion to arrive. Fighting as part of the 2nd Division, the battalion took part in its first major battle at Pozieres.
The village had been captured on 23 July by the 1st Division, which suffered heavily, enduring almost continuous artillery fire and repeated German counter-attacks. After taking over the sector, the 2nd Division planned to mount an attack on the night of 28 July.
The attack occurred later than planned, and seemed plagued by disaster from the outset. Higgins’ battalion and others were late to their starting line, and their movement was detected by German defenders. Remorseless German shelling raised dust that prevented artillery observers from directing field guns tasked with cutting barbed wire. When the attack began, the Australians were met by a hail of machine-gun fire. The 2nd Division lost over 3,500 men.
Brian Higgins was reported missing during the attack, and it wasn’t until a year later that a court of enquiry found he had been killed in action. He was 32 years old.

Today he is commemorated at the Australian National Memorial at Villers–Bretonneux, alongside over 10,000 Australian soldiers with no known grave.

In 1918, Brian Higgins senior presented a font to the Roman Catholic Church at Cooran as a memorial to the two sons who had been lost while serving with the AIF.

Their names are listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among more than 60,000 Australians who died while serving in the First World War.

These are but two of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Trooper Thomas Higgins and Private Brian Higgins, who gave their lives for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Duncan Beard
Editor, Military History Section

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