The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (20832) Gunner William Henry Marcombe, 12th Field Artillery Brigade, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2021.1.1.174
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 23 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 Troy Clayton, the story for this day was on (20832) Gunner William Henry Marcombe, 12th Field Artillery Brigade, First World War.

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Speech transcript

20832 Gunner William Henry Marcombe, 12th Field Artillery Brigade
KIA 23 June 1918

Today we remember and pay tribute to Gunner William Henry Marcombe.

William Marcombe, known by his family as “Will”, was born on 19 January 1892 in Treharris, a village in the valleys to the north of Cardiff, South Wales. He was the eldest son of William and Fanny Marcombe, and was educated at the local school in Treharris. William’s father almost certainly worked as a miner in the Welsh coal mines, and was a vocal activist for social matters in the valleys. He went on to serve as the secretary of the Treharris Labour Representation Committee, and president of the Mid-Rhondda Trades and Labour Council. William also went into the mines, working as a labourer.

When he was 18 years old, William Marcombe left Wales, arriving in Queensland on board the steamer Oswestry Grange in 1910. He moved around after arriving, spending time in Rockhampton, Bundaberg and Childers, with a longer period in Mackay. While he was away his father’s health declined, and in 1911 the Marcombe family made the decision to join their eldest son in Queensland in the hopes it would help William senior. They arrived in 1913 and the large family settled at Mount Morgan, where William junior resumed work as a miner.

William Marcombe enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in September 1915, around the same time as his younger brother Walter. They followed in the footsteps of their brother Robert, who was serving with the 26th Battalion.

William joined the artillery and began an extended period of training in Australia. In November 1916, two months after William joined the AIF, his father died at Mount Morgan. Less than three weeks later Private Robert Marcombe was evacuated from Gallipoli Peninsula with pneumonia, and died en route to hospital in Malta. With the loss of her husband and one of her sons, Fanny Marcombe withdrew her permission for 18-year old Walter to serve in the military, and he agreed to be sent home. William Marcombe would be the only brother to continue to serve, sending a stipend home to his widowed mother.

Gunner William Marcombe left Australia for active service overseas in May 1916 with the 9th Field Artillery Brigade. He was first sent to England where he continued training on Salisbury Plain for several months. In late December 1916 he was hospitalised for several months, only being released back to his brigade in March 1917. Later that year he was transferred to the 12th Field Artillery Brigade, finally reaching his unit on the battlefields of Belgium in June 1917.

Gunner Marcombe reached the battlefields days after the battle of Messines saw some success in the Allied campaigns around the Ypres salient. Later in the year the Australians would see further limited success during the battle of third Ypres, a campaign more normally recognised for its high casualty rate and horrifying, mud-soaked trenches.

Marcombe would leave his brigade twice – once for leave and once for a further period of hospitalisation – before fighting resumed in earnest after the winter of 1917 and 1918. He rejoined his brigade in mid-April 1918. Two months later the brigade was in the field near the French town of Strazeele, near the Belgian border, spending several weeks firing at specific German positions, and also simply dropping shells wherever they thought it would disrupt German activity.

On 23 June, the 12th Field Artillery Brigade took part in an operation against the Germans opposite, firing in support of the infantry attack. During the operation, Gunner Marcombe was a member of a small party made up of six telephonists under the leadership of Lieutenant Frank Mountjoy. They went forward under fire in order to provide observation reports back to their brigade. They had just reached their forward post when a German shell scored a direct hit amongst the party, killing Gunner William Marcombe and five others instantly, and wounding one. Only Mountjoy, blown high into the air and landing unwounded but shaky, was left to report their fate.

Gunner William Marcombe’s body was later recovered from the battlefield and laid to rest in nearby Meteren Military Cemetery. He was 26 years old.

In 1922, on the third anniversary of Will Marcombe’s death, his mother and siblings put a notice in the newspaper in memory of their son and brother. It read:
Some may think we have forgotten
When at times they see us smile;
But they cannot see the heartache
That the smile hides all the while.
Will Marcombe’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 Gunner William Henry Marcombe, 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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