John Laffin Memorial Lectures

The John Laffin Memorial Lecture is held annually. The lecture is open to members, their guests and anyone with an interest in the First AIF and its part in the Great War 1914-1918. The inaugural lecture was held on 13th July 2003 at the Richmond RSL.


The 2018 John Laffin Memorial Lecture Series
The 2018 John Laffin Memorial Lecture Day, held at 99 York St in Sydney’s CBD on 15 September was a rewarding day for those who attended. In a full day of talks our four speakers delivered informative lectures that were entertaining and reflective of the effort and sacrifice of Australians during and after the Great War.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Sweeney, former infantry officer and now battlefield historian and guide, delivered an enthralling talk on the Australian battle of Le Hamel fought on the 4th of July 1918.

Our second talk was delivered by one of the four 2017 John Laffin Memorial History Prize recipients, Nathaniel Sgambellone of Monash University. His talk, “Good Bye to All That” was based on his original research of the Repatriation files in the National Archives of Australia.

The role of the 2,500 nurses who served overseas during the war with the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) was outlined by Clare Ashton, a senior nurse and expert historian in the role of nursing and the medical services in the Great War. Clare presented a survey of the AANS nurses who served as afield as Lemnos, Egypt, France and England.

FFFAIF Committee member Sue Tongue spoke about her Grandmother, Sister Nellie Pike, the mother of FFFAIF Founder John Laffin and his younger sisters Patricia (Williams) and Daphne (Tongue). Nellie served in the 3rd Australian General Hospital.

Click here to view a more comprehensive report on the 2018 John Laffin Memorial Lecture Series.


The 2017 John Laffin Memorial Lecture
More than 45 people attended the John Laffin Memorial Lecture series with a focus on the year 1917 at 99 York St, Sydney on Saturday 16th of September 2017. About half the attendees were FFFAIF members with a number of Western Front Association members and Fromelles Association members. Inaugural President Craig Laffin delivered the opening remarks. The Program was:

Dr William Westerman’s topic was “AIF battalion commanders at Third Ypres in 1917”, William spoke of the men who commanded the infantry battalions of the AIF, including a case study. William has recently published his research as Soldiers and Gentlemen: Australian battalion commanders in the Great War 1914-1918, Cambridge University Press 2017. William travelled from Canberra for the lecture

Dr Ross McMullin spoke on his new book “In his own words, Pompey Elliott at War”. He used his research into the correspondence and writing of this famous commander of the 15th Brigade AIF to bring to life the story of Pompey Elliott at war. Ross travelled from Melbourne for the lecture.

Greg O’Reilly presented his remarkable and original research into the machine gun units of the AIF in “4th Machine Gun Battalion AIF operations and personalities 1917-1918, new research”. Greg had recently published articles in both of the FFFAIF journals on the subject, and travelled from Perth for the lecture.


The 2016 John Laffin Memorial Lecture was held on Friday, 11 November, at the NSW Parliament House theatrette (an excellent venue). The NSW Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, The Hon David Elliott was the host, but had commitments elsewhere and was represented by The Hon. Scott Farlow MLC. The Western Front Association and Fromelles Association, along with the History Teachers Association helped promote the event. Neville Kidd, recited The Ode via Skype to the 34 members and guests who attended the lecture. Inaugural President Craig Laffin conveyed the appreciation of the Laffin Family for FFFAIF continuing to honour the memory of his father.

The Lecture Program focused on Fromelles and Pozieres to mark the centenary of both battles:

Welcome, the Ode, tribute to John Laffin

The Battle of Fromelles: Background and reality, Jim Munro, President Families and Friends of the First AIF

The Search for the missing, Patrick Lindsay AM, Author and Broadcaster
Author of Fromelles, a milestone publication in the initiating the “Fromelles Project”

How the buried diggers were identified and their lives reclaimed, Tim Lycett,
Author of Fromelles: the Final Chapters

The impact that the battle of Fromelles on families and commemorations of the battle, Royce Atkinson, President of The Fromelles Association.

Fromelles Panel discussion:

Chris Bryett,  Annette Tebb, Patrick Lindsay, Tim Lycett, Royce Atkinson, Jim Munro

The FFFAIF 2016 Commemorative Western Front Tour, Matt Smith, FFFAIF Tour Co-Leader

The battle of Pozieres and The Pozieres School Project, Will Davies, historian, Author and ANZAC Ambassador.


Past presenters of John Laffin Memorial Lectures have included:

2015: Tony Cunneen: The Home Front 1914-1918 andRobyn Van Dyk: The Australian War Memorial’s Key Centenary Projects and 100 years of Australian military mapping and Andrew Pittaway followed by a tour of the AWM led by Robyn Van Dyk

Read the report on the 2015 John Laffin Memorial Lecture 5 July 2015

2014: Jim Munro: The Road to the Great War and Richard Wright: Not by DNA alone: the role of archaeology and anthropology at the Pheasant Wood mass graves, Fromelles

2013: Graham Wilson: All aboard for the Western Front – AIF Railway Units and Michelle Bomford: Mont St Quentin-Peronne: Beyond the Legend

2012: Charlotte Descamps: Life on the battlefields – 94 years later at Varlet Farm and Passchendaele


2010: Will Davies: Hill 60 and Ray Martin: Stories of my Life

2009: Phil Carey and Joe Crumlin: GallipoliThe First of the First

2008: Ross St Claire & Lambis Englezos: Locating the missing of Fromelles

2007: Sam McSkimming, inaugural winner of the John Laffin Travel Prize, spoke with great passion of the anguish and grief experienced by families in Australia when loved ones went missing, were injured or killed during that dreadful war. Their heartache was all the more acute due to the vast distance involved. To most Australians, their loved ones may as well have been on another planet. There was no way they could afford to travel to pay tribute, either physically or financially, and in any case, thousands who perished had no official grave. It is little wonder memorials were erected in most areas of the country as soon as was practical; at least they provided a focal point for the grieving.

A transcript of the lecture follows:2005 JLTP Winning Essay
© Copyright Sam McSkimming. Subject to the fair dealing provisions of the Copyright Act 1968, reproduction in any form is not permitted without written permission of the Author.

CWG St Ediths Baverstock UK

I’d like to thank the Families and Friends of the First AIF for inviting me to deliver the John Laffin Memorial Lecture. It’s a great pleasure to be part of such a genuine organisation; and one that continues to make a significant contribution to the study and commemoration of Australian involvement in the Great War.

Today I have chosen to speak, perhaps unwisely for a Sunday morning, of loss, bereavement and grief. My aim today is to explore how a mother or father, in a new country and one impossibly far from the Front, could ever come to terms with the loss of their son.

Read more by clicking on 2005 JLTP Winning Essay