Wednesday 6 August 2014 by Jayne Simpson. No comments
Education at the Memorial, First World War Centenary, News, Commemorative Crosses

Children writing messages on Commemorative Crosses

“Your spirit astounds us
Your bravery inspires us
Your courage awes us
Your sacrifice strengthens us...”

These words are inscribed by an Australian school aged child upon a simple wooden cross to be laid at a war grave of a fallen Australian serviceperson. Messages of hope and thanks have been written on thousands of crosses that have been placed on the graves where Australian Servicemen and women are buried. These include countries such as Turkey, France, Belgium, Malaysia, Singapore, Greece, South Africa and the Middle East. The commemorative crosses project began in early 2013 and will continue through to 2018.

Schools participating in the We Will Remember Them school program when they visit the Australian War Memorial which is suitable for primary and secondary school students have been participating in this Centenary project which has gained a remarkable and emotional response. The Commemorative Crosses project has provided an opportunity for the Education Team to enhance the student’s commemorative program.

Stuart Baines from the Australian War Memorial’s Education department states that “It is an opportunity to not only understand why and who we commemorate but through the crosses we have a tangible way to contribute to commemoration overseas.”

Children participating in Commemorative Crosses

This program has had an overwhelming response from children and teachers alike, more than had been anticipated. It is a “chance for them to connect their experience from the classroom to Canberra” Stuart says, “And then around the world to the sites where our men and women have fallen, it has clearly spoken to many of them.” This has become evident with many schools incorporating the project into their curriculum, often inscriptions on the crosses speak of the children’s learning:

“After researching about the importance of your effort during WW1 I now realise how important your sacrifice was and is to the Australian community.”

“Dear serviceman, this semester my class has been working on Australia’s involvement in WW1. I want to thank you for your perseverance as I now realise what you went through in battle I appreciate the courage you showed."

Commemorative Cross on a grave

The messages the children have written on the crosses have showed their extensive understanding of the First World War and the devastating effect it had on the Australian people at the time, and how it still is affecting people today. Their depth of emotional understanding has been noted by Karin Huckstepp a member of the Education Team  who recently took a group of students in year nine and ten through the galleries on the We Will Remember Them program. She finished off their program with the Commemorative Crosses. 

Some of them were struggling with knowing what to write when Karin suggested they imagine standing in front of an Australian grave perhaps in France. She prompted them “What would you say to the fallen soldier?”  One child in the group then simply wrote, “Sleep well friend.”
These poetic and heartfelt messages have already moved those involved in the project. Stuart has had the chance to personally see the crosses laid at war graves in France, Turkey and Belgium. He reflects:

“The power of seeing a young person’s message, written in their own hand, a personal message between them and the fallen…. It is a powerful link between past and present and some of these messages truly reflect the connection that young people are establishing. Not a connection with legend, idealism or myth but a connection to someone who sacrificed themselves, a connection to real people.”

These messages in the students own words are their individual reflections, messages of hope for the future, of thanks and of sorrow. The following examples have been taken from a selection of crosses completed by students at the Australian War Memorial:

“Your bravery and sacrifice will forever be in my heart. I will never fail to remember the determination and willingness of those who fought. Lest we forget”

“Your spirit will be in our hearts forever and we will never forget the courage and sacrifice you showed for your country. Lest we forget”

“Even though you don’t know me, you served for me, and for everyone. You will never be forgotten.”

If your school or community group is interested in participating in this project, crosses are blank and can be made available via request to all schools not just those who attend the memorial’s education programs. Through the website you can register to be a part of this centenary initiative by filling in the centenary projects webform.

To see the success of this project visit the Commemorative Crosses Flickr page to view photos of the crosses that have been placed at war graves and memorials worldwide.

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