Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson

The Australian War Memorial’s founder and official historian for the First World War, Charles Bean, landed on Gallipoli with Australian troops on 25 April 1915 and stayed with them to the end. It was in 1916 at Pozieres, where Australia suffered over 23,000 casualties in 6 weeks, that Bean conceived the idea for the Australian War Memorial.

From August 2014 until 2018, we will commemorate the centenary of the First World War, the scars it left and the pride we felt when we emerged from the other side. The events that took place 100 years ago meant a lot to us then and means a lot for our future.

The Australian War Memorial will be commemorating the Centenary of the First World War through a variety of projects.

Our main project involves the redevelopment of the Memorial’s First World War galleries that will be opening in late 2014. The new galleries will explore why Australia joined the war and who we were in 1914. The galleries will also take on a chronological approach to the display of events and feature collection items collected over the past 100 years, many of which are on display for the first time.

A temporary exhibition on the First World War called Anzac Voices has now opened. This exhibition focuses on the individual stories of sacrifice and features treasures from the Memorial’s archives, presenting the voices of the Anzacs through their personal letters and diaries.

From around August 2014 we will also be projecting the names of the 62,000 men and women on the First World War Roll of Honour panels onto the outside of the Memorial building. This project will continue over the four years of the centenary.

Within the Commemorative Area from November 2014 to November 2018, school children will read the names and ages of each individual on the First World War Roll of Honour panels which will play over discreet speakers placed throughout the cloisters. This is an important project that will reflect the individual sacrifices made by the men and women who fought for Australia in the First World War.

The Memorial will also be enhancing its website through a project called Anzac Connections. This new search function will bring together our rich collection as well as the National Archives collection to tell the stories of our soldiers.

Over 140,000 school children visit the Memorial a year, during the centenary, each child will write their name and school on a wooden cross. These crosses will then be placed on the graves of First World War Australian soldiers throughout Europe.

One project we are currently working on is a travelling exhibition for the First World War. This exhibition will travel to regional communities across the country to share the stories of our First World War soldiers. This will be done through the use of collection items, projections of photos onto community buildings, and, potentially, the display of large technology items. The exhibition will have a focus on the Western Front and in particular the battle of Passchendaele. The exhibition will begin travelling from the end of 2015 or early 2016.

What we do through the centenary is incredibly important as it links our past with our future. The sacrifices of the past reflect who we were then, who we are today, and who we want to be for the future.

Dr Brendan Nelson, National Press Club Address, 18 September 2013.