Last Australian WWI Serviceman Dies

Inger Sheil

Dec 3, 2000
Another living thread linking us to our past is gone.

Evan Allan, the last Australian serviceman to see action in WWI, died late Monday night.

He joined up with newly formed Australian Royal Navy in March 1914, and went on to survive two world wars, the Spanish flu of 1919, being washed overboard in the North Atlantic, German mines and U-boats, and Japanese kamikaze bombers.

He was on board the first HMAS Sydney when the German High Fleet surrendered in 1918.

He was the last survivor of the 330,000 Australians who saw active service in WWI.

I grew up with the stories about my two grandfathers who served in WWI - particularly Edward Sheil, who enlisted at the first call up, served through Gallipoli and France, was wounded several times and who lived to tell the tale. I never knew him, but the stories he had told my father made it so vivid that I almost felt I had known him. Not glorious stories, either - very human accounts of very young men, who had much in common with the young Aussies who so horrified Bertie Hayes with their behaviour.

I knew a lot of WWI vets growing up - stood by them more than once in Australia and overseas for dawn services on ANZAC day, as the notes of the last post fell on still morning air. Now time has taken them all.


Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old, as we who are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We shall remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
Dec 2, 2000
Easley South Carolina
>>Not glorious stories, either <<

Strories that are true to what war really is seldom ever are. The tales of great battles rarely mention the mud, the disease, the oppressive heat of long summers, the bitter cold of winters, or the constant fear that comes with being someplace where people are trying to kill you, and the horror of watching friends die.

Those who served endured all of that and worse. May this man rest in peace. He's earned it.

Dave Gittins

Apr 11, 2001
I'll add an Australian poem from Kenneth Slessor. It's perhaps truer than the Binyon.

Beach Burial

Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.

Between the sob and clubbing of gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness;

And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
Bears the last signature of men,
Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,
The words choke as they begin -

"Unknown seaman" - the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips,
The breath of wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men's lips,

Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as ememies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front.

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