The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX378) Brigadier John Wilson Crawford, 11th Infantry Brigade, AIF, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2021.1.1.58
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 27 February 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 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 Troy Clayton, the story for this day was on (NX378) Brigadier John Wilson Crawford, 11th Infantry Brigade, AIF, Second World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

NX378 Brigadier John Wilson Crawford, 11th Infantry Brigade, AIF
KIA 7 March 1943

Today we remember and pay tribute to Brigadier John Wilson Crawford.

John Crawford was born on 8 July 1899 to John and Emily Crawford of the Sydney suburb of Paddington. His parents were Irish immigrants, and his father worked as a produce merchant. John was educated at the Sydney Church of England Grammar School, and later Sydney University. He went on to work as a solicitor in Sydney. In 1928 he married Gladys Clay, and a daughter was later born to the couple.

Crawford served with the cadets at school, and later with the Sydney University Scouts. During the Depression he became involved with a paramilitary group known as the Old Guard, and, maintaining links to the military, he was later promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Citizen Military Forces and given command of the Sydney University Regiment.

Lieutenant Colonel Crawford was called up for full time service in August 1939, taking command of the 4th Battalion for a short period before being transferred to the Second Australian Imperial Force. In April 1940 he “was appointed to establish and command the 2/17th Battalion.”
In October that year the 2/17th was sent to Libya to fight against ascendant German and Italian forces. It was later noted that during “the difficult withdrawal from Mersa Brega to Tobruk, Crawford’s handling of his command was an outstanding example of leadership in numerous difficult situations, and resulted in the successful withdrawal of his battalion.”

Having established a defensive position at Tobruk, Crawford’s battalion came under attack from a German Panzer Division. With as many as 40 tanks and a large number of enemy infantry having breached his front line, Crawford “personally organised counter attacks … his handling of the situation had the result of completely defeating the enemy, destroying many tanks and practically wiping out a German machine gun Battalion.”

Crawford was later awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his actions at Tobruk, his citation reading, “he has constantly led his battalion in the defence of Tobruk, and under his direct supervision the men of his command have carried out the most vigorous defence, combined with constant offensive patrolling activities with the most successful results. His courage and coolness under most difficult circumstances have been, at all times, an inspiration to his command.”

Crawford was briefly attached to I Corps headquarters in the Middle East before returning to Australia. In April 1942 he was promoted to temporary brigadier and given charge of the 11th Infantry Brigade. He spent much of the year in Queensland, where the brigade was based in Townsville. He was also in command of York Force, tasked with the defence of the Cape York Peninsula in the case of an enemy attack.

On 7 March 1943, Brigadier John Crawford left Townsville on board a Royal Australian Air Force plane that crashed some time after take off. The search area for the crashed plane was narrowed down to three square miles; but the rainforest was so dense that search aircraft and nearly 400 ground searchers took four days to find the crash site. They recovered two injured survivors and the bodies of three who had been killed. Although the site was just one and a half kilometres from safety, it took two days to make a trail to get everyone out.

Among those killed was Brigadier John Crawford. His body was found in the plane, and was taken out along the newly cut trail for burial at Cairns War Cemetery. John Crawford was 43, survived by his wife and eight-year-old daughter.
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 Brigadier John Wilson Crawford, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section

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