The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (1812) Private William Matthew Colbert, 27th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Place Africa: Egypt, North Egypt, Mena
Accession Number AWM2021.1.1.164
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 13 June 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 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 (1812) Private William Matthew Colbert, 27th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

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Speech transcript

1812 Private William Matthew Colbert, 27th Battalion, AIF
Illness: 21 September 1915

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private William Matthew Colbert.

William Colbert was born in Kapunda, South Australia on 25 January 1898, the youngest of three surviving sons born to James and Sarah Colbert.

He grew up around Kapunda, where he attended Dominican Convent School. As a young man he served for three years in the local militia.

In 1914, Colbert fell under the sway of 24-year-old Christopher Hartwig, who convinced the 16-year-old to steal sheep with him. The pair were arrested after stealing 98 sheep in two separate incidents. According to testimonies given on his behalf, William was easily led, and it proved to be his undoing.

In February 1915, despite pleas for leniency from a local member of parliament, William was found guilty and sentenced to serve time at the Roman Catholic Reformatory until he turned 18.

However, William only remained there until late April, when he escaped and travelled to Adelaide. As the First World War had broken out the previous August, he had the means to escape the country.

After travelling to the Australian Imperial Force recruiting depot at Keswick, he enlisted on 4 May under the name William Matthews. As he was still only 17 years old, he claimed to be 18 and listed his next of kin as a sister with whom he had lost contact. In fact, his only sister had died as an infant before he had been born.

After some initial training at Mitcham Camp, William was allotted to reinforcements to the 27th Battalion. On 23 June 1915 he embarked on the transport ship Kanowna, bound for Egypt.

William joined his battalion at Mena Camp in late July and over the next two months continued training. In September he was admitted to hospital suffering a perennial abscess. He then developed an infection which led to a fatal case of blood poisoning.

Knowing he was dying, William confessed his real name to the hospital staff, told them that his mother was his next of kin, and passed on his home address. He died on 21 September, at the age of 17.

At least one of his brothers also served during the war. The Colbert family suffered further loss when 24-year-old Private Edward John Colbert was killed in action on 15 April 1917 while serving with the 10th Battalion.

William Colbert’s name 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 William Matthew Colbert, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Michael Kelly
Historian, Military History Section
505 words

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