The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (115) Lance Corporal Brian John Saltau, 57th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2022.1.1.33
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell, Australian War Memorial
Date made 2 February 2022
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC

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 Sharon Bown, the story for this day was on (115) Lance Corporal Brian John Saltau, 57th Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

115 Lance Corporal Brian John Saltau, 57th Battalion, AIF
KIA 15 March 1917

Today we remember and pay tribute to Lance Corporal Brian John Saltau.

Brian Saltau was born in 1896 to John and Isabella Saltau of Warrnambool, Victoria. He grew up in Warrnambool and began his education there, later attending Dorcas Street State School after his family moved to Melbourne. He went on to University Practising School, passing his junior public examination with distinction, and then taking the Commonwealth public service examination. The result of this exam saw him posted to the Customs Department, but Brian decided he preferred the job he had been working during his years of study, and remained working as a clerk at G.G. Crespin and Son in Queen Street, Melbourne. Saltau retained his connection to the University Practising School, however, serving as the Secretary of its Old Boys’ Association, and was an “energetic member” of the Dorcas Street Presbyterian Church mission. He was also a member of the South Melbourne Swimming Club.

Although barely 18 years old at the outbreak of war in August 1914, Brian went with his older brother Victor to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force as soon as it was possible, putting his age up to 21 so as to avoid the necessity of providing a letter of parental consent. The brothers were posted to the newly formed 5th Battalion and left for active service overseas just two months later, spending the first few months of 1915 training in the Egyptian desert.

On 25 April 1915 the 5th Battalion took part in the landing on Gallipoli as part of the second wave. By the following day, Private Brian Saltau had been shot in the chest and shoulder. He was evacuated to hospital in Egypt. His brother Vic would go on to fight at Cape Helles, and died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen about a week after Brian was taken to hospital.

Private Brian Saltau returned to his battalion on Gallipoli in June 1915. His health suffered, however, and he was treated for influenza, impetigo, gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, septic sores and jaundice before being declared fit to rejoin his battalion in Egypt in mid-January 1916.
On its return to Egypt after the Gallipoli campaign, the AIF underwent a period of reorganisation and expansion. As part of this process, Saltau was transferred to the 57th Battalion. Just over a month later, however, he became sick, and spent more than three months at the dermatological hospital in Abbassia.

A month after returning to the 57th Battalion, Saltau’s unit was sent to France to serve on the Western Front. One of the last battalions to arrive, the 57th took part in the AIF’s first major operation in France, the battle of Fromelles. The attack was a disaster, but as the battalion played a largely supporting role, it suffered relatively light casualties.

During the bitterly cold winter of 1916 to 1917, the 57th Battalion spent time rotating in and out of the front line in often damp and freezing conditions. In October 1916, Saltau was promoted to lance corporal. Within a few weeks he was diagnosed with trench feet – a condition caused by standing in frozen, muddy trenches – and was again evacuated from the front line. He was not found fit to return to his battalion until February 1917.

Around the time of Saltau’s return, the Germans were conducting a withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. In the Australian sector, battalions took their turn conducting patrols of no man’s land, trying to determine where the Germans were, and if the trenches opposite were still occupied, as the Germans pulled back bit by bit.

The 57th Battalion re-entered the front line near Gueudecourt at 6 pm on 15 May 1917. It was thought that the Germans in the trench opposite were “on the point of evacuating” their position, and so A Company was sent forward to attempt to take the trench almost as soon as they reached the front line. The raiding party encountered strong, thick barbed wire barricades and heavy machine-gun fire, and were soon forced to turn back.

Lance Corporal Brian Saltau reached the barbed wire, and was probably in the process of turning back when he and a comrade came under machine-gun fire. Saltau was hit in the neck and killed instantly. His comrade returned to the officer commanding the raid, who insisted that Saltau’s body was recovered to “give him a decent burial, because he was so well liked and held in great esteem by the men of the regiment.”

Brian Saltau was probably buried in or near Barley Trench in the Flers sector of the line. Despite the best efforts of the men who recovered his body, Saltau’s grave was later lost, and today he is commemorated on the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. He was 20 years old.

His 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 Lance Corporal Brian John Saltau, 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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