Second Lieutenant William Keith Seabrook, 17th Battalion
DOW 21 September 1917
Photograph: H05568 (Keith in centre, brothers Theo on left and George on right)
Story delivered 21 September 2013
Today, we remember and pay tribute to Second Lieutenant William Keith Seabrook.
Keith was the youngest of the three sons of Fanny and William Seabrook of Petersham, New South Wales, who enlisted in mid-1916. Unlike his elder brothers, he had experience in the civilian militia forces, where he was commissioned a lieutenant. He originally enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in August 1915, leaving his job as a telephonist to engage in military activity full-time. Because he was too young for a commission in the forces sent overseas, he served as a lieutenant at Casula, Liverpool, and Cootamundra in Australia.
After nearly 12 months of this, he gave up his rank and enlisted again as a private to go overseas. He left Australia on the troop transport Ascanius with the 17th Reinforcements to the 17th Battalion. He was joined in this contingent by his two elder brothers, Theo and George, who had enlisted at a similar time. After a period of training in England, the three went to France and, eventually, Belgium to fight on the Western Front.
Keith s previous experience stood him in good stead, and he was quickly promoted through the ranks. In July 1917 he was commissioned a lieutenant, having reached the age of 21. He was given command of 11th Platoon in C Company of the 17th Battalion.
In September 1917, Keith Seabrook was finally given the chance to command men in battle. On the 20th of September, the 17th Battalion attacked the German position in front of the town of Westhoek. Seabrook, pale and anxious, gave a final handshake to his batman, and left for the front line.
As the platoon was walking through the dark in single file along duckboards, a shell landed among them. Seabrook was walking in front and suffered severe wounds
from the blast. The man who dressed his wounds said they were of such a nature that I do not think it advisable to let his people know what they were . Although Seabrook made it to a casualty clearing station, the popular young officer died not long after.
While Keith was being taken from the battlefield on a stretcher, George and Theo were killed in action. The brothers were hit by the same artillery shell and were killed instantly in the early hours of the morning of September the 20th. Keith was buried in a cemetery next to the casualty clearing station in which he died. George and Theo have no known grave, and are commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres.
Their loss was devastating to their family back in Australia, who lost their three eldest sons and brothers in just a few hours.
The names of Lieutenant William Keith Seabrook and his brothers Private George Ross Seabrook and Private Theo Leslie Seabrook are listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, along with more than 60,000 others from the First World War, and their photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.
This is but one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Second Lieutenant William Keith Seabrook, and all those Australians who have given their lives in the service of our nation.