The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (80) Captain George Meysey Hammond MC & Bar MM, 28th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2021.1.1.165
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 14 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 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 Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (80) Captain George Meysey Hammond MC & Bar MM, 28th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Speech transcript

80 Captain George Meysey Hammond MC & Bar MM, 28th Battalion, AIF
DOW: 14 June 1918

Today we remember and pay tribute to Captain George Meysey Hammond MC & Bar MM.

Meysey Hammond was born on 3 July 1892 at Handsworth in Staffordshire, England, the son of George and Emily Hammond.

Meysey grew up in a comfortable home environment and from the age of 13 was privately educated at the National School at Pershore, Worcestershire. After leaving school, he worked as a secretary for a vicar before becoming an apprentice grocer.

Seeking broader horizons, Hammond decided to become a mariner and live a life on the sea. These hopes were dashed when he twice failed the entry examination for the Elder Dempster Line due to colour-blindness. In a fit of disgust, Hammond took ship to Australia, arriving in Perth in February 1911.

He worked as a labourer on a wheat farm near Moora, and later as a boundary rider on the Upper Gascoyne River and the De Grey Regions of Western Australia. The harsh climate took a toll on his pale complexion and he soon acquired the nickname “Tomato”.

After a failed farming venture, he returned to the sea and travelled to the Netherlands East Indies, acquiring nautical-themed tattoos on his forearms and a penchant for salty sailor talk. After returning to Australia he penned a vivid account of his journey and then travelled to Broome, where he was working as a second mate on a pearling vessel when the First World War began.

He enlisted for service in the Australian Imperial Force at Broome on 5 February 1915. He was sent to Blackboy Hill camp, where he and his fellow recruits were initially slated to join the 24th Battalion, then being raised in Victoria. In April, the 28th Battalion was raised at Blackboy Hill and those recruits for the 24th Battalion were transferred directly to the 28th.

The 28th Battalion embarked from Fremantle on 11 June aboard the transport ship Ascanius, and steamed for Egypt. After a period of training, the battalion sailed for Gallipoli, arriving in early September. Now a sergeant, Hammond was involved in several scouting forays into no-man’s land. From the outset he showed no fear of danger and was eager to be involved in activities that took him into danger.

At the beginning of December, Hammond reported sick with jaundice and was evacuated to Egypt to recover. Weeks later the Gallipoli campaign came to an end. The 28th Battalion returned to Egypt in early January 1916. Hammond re-joined his unit the following month, sailing to France in mid-March.

The men had their introduction to trench warfare in the “Nursery Sector”, a sector of the front line near Armentieres, and Hammond earnt a Military Medal for his scouting work. In July the battalion was sent south to the Somme.

Before entering the front line, Hammond was ordered to remain with the battalion’s nucleus and to stay out of the forthcoming attack on the German OG 1 trench. Not wanting to miss the battalion’s first major action in France, he disobeyed orders and went into the front line anyway.

On the night of 28 July the battalion went over the top and advanced, suffering 470 casualties in less than two hours. Hammond was wounded by shrapnel in his left thigh. He recounted the incident in a letter, written from his hospital bed:

“I received a dose of shrapnel in my left leg on the glorious night when the battalion went over the top. The Doctors have extracted the stuff but goodness knows when I will commence crawling about again. I do so want to get back to the good old 28th instead of lying so helpless here. We had a hell of a time. There is only 30 of us left, so perhaps a fellow must count himself extremely lucky to come out with only a leg wound. All our officers have gone and I’m rather anxious to know what they propose doing with the small remainder of the company.”

He found out while in hospital that, despite his disobedience, he had been commissioned as a second lieutenant on the same day he had been wounded.

Now using a walking stick, He returned to duty in September and took over a platoon in A Company. He proved an able and popular leader, and an unconventional officer. He took the wire out of his peaked cap and painted the 28th Battalion’s colour patch on the top, and refused to wear a helmet in the line. He never quite adopted the army’s words of command, preferring to deliver his commands in nautical terminology. When he required his men to halt he would call out “make fast for’ard” instead.

Behind the lines or on leave, Hammond continued to wear his battered and stained uniform as a badge of pride, and as a goad to those behind the lines he considered “cold footed loafers”.

On 5 November, while waiting in a trench before to a major attack on Gird Trench near Flers, Hammond’s left elbow was shattered, most likely by shrapnel. Despite the wound, he still wanted to take part in the attack, but was convinced by his company commander to attend the dressing station instead.

Hammond’s wound was not life-threatening, but he was evacuated to England for further treatment and convalescence. But his left arm did not recover. His elbow would not mend and his forearm and hand withered. Hammond kept his arm in a sling and wore a glove on his hand to hide the extent of the damage. A medical board recommended that Hammond be returned to Australia and discharged as medically unfit.

Not wanting to go home, Hammond lobbied senior officers, including General Sir William Birdwood, to be allowed to return to his battalion. He went as far as to fashion and demonstrate a hook which he attached to his Sam Browne belt that enabled him to use grenades. He also showed that he could fit and adjust his gas mask with one hand.

In May 1917 Hammond, now promoted to lieutenant, was given permission to re-join his beloved battalion. His commanding officer made Hammond battalion intelligence officer in order to keep him out of the line. He was having none of it. During the attack on Polygon Wood on 20 September, he used his position as intelligence officer to be at the forefront of each attack, and was amongst the first Australians into the German trenches where he captured 20 Germans. Part of his citation for the Military Cross reads:

“He was fearless in the extreme, and cheered everyone on. He volunteered for any dangerous work and made a number of reconnaissances of the front line, securing much useful information.”

At around 1 am the following morning Hammond paid a visit to his friend Captain Reg Gill in C Company. One soldier who witnessed the visit later recounted, “Rather than walk through the trenches, [Hammond] made his way over open ground and despite the darkness, the Germans were shooting at him.” Unperturbed, Hammond stood on the parapet talking to Gill, who soon remonstrated with his friend, “for God’s sake, Meysey, get down into the trench or you’ll get knocked!” Hammond was said to have replied “Oh, I’m alright, Reg, old man. It’s just ripping letting those blighters see how they miss me. But I suppose I’d better get down. I don’t want to draw crabs on your boys.” Hammond remained with Gill for a little while longer, before moving on to another company, all the while under German fire. Gill was killed a week later.

Hammond was prominent in the 28th Battalion’s attack on Broodseinde Ridge in early October. He and the battalion signals officer were observed well ahead of the rifle companies, attacking German pill boxes with revolvers, grenades and bad language.

Hammond had a lucky escape from a German sniper on Christmas Day 1917 when a bullet tore through his left breast pocket, damaging his field notebook and a cigarette case, but leaving him otherwise unwounded.

In early 1918 Hammond was selected to take over from Henry Gullett as the Australian War Records Section representative in Palestine. He got as far as London and was chafing with the inactivity there, when he received news of the German spring offensive.

Determined to re-join his battalion, Hammond lobbied his superiors until they relented and signed his transfer request. By May he was back in France, where he found himself posted to the 7th Brigade training school. Further lobbying finally saw him re-join the 28th Battalion at the end of the month. Newly promoted to captain, he again took command of A Company. His men were delighted to see him return.

On the evening of 10 June, the 28th Battalion was involved in the attack on Morlancourt. During the advance, Hammond led his men behind the creeping artillery barrage, armed only with a watch and a walking stick. When it came time to assault the German first line, he was one of the first into the German trenches, where he captured a number of German prisoners. He continued the attack using a captured pistol. The battle was over by 10 pm.

Checking on his company’s posts the next day, Hammond’s luck ran out. While moving between sentry posts, he was shot through the liver by a German sniper. As he was carried away, he said to his commanding officer, “keep the old flag flying sir”.

Hammond was evacuated to a casualty clearing station at Vignacourt. Despite an operation to try and save his life, his wound proved to be mortal. In and out of consciousness for three days, shortly before his death he was heard to say “What is it mother dear?” He was laid to rest in the Vignacourt British Cemetery. He was 25 years old.

His parents received telegrams from the King and Queen of England and personal letters from General Sir William Birdwood lamenting their loss.

Hammond was posthumously awarded a Bar to his Military Cross for his leadership and bravery at Morlancourt.

Hammond’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among more than 60,000 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 Captain George Meysey Hammond MC & Bar, MM, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Michael Kelly
Historian, Military History Section

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