Monuments and memorials

The faraway graves of Australians who died overseas passed into the dedicated care of the Imperial War Graves Commission (later the Commonwealth War Graves Commission). Founded by the commander of a British Red Cross mobile ambulance unit, the Commission took on an almost insurmountable task, recording the burial sites of every member of the British and dominion forces who did not return home. By 1918 the Commission had registered 587,000 graves, but another 559,000 bodies could not be either identified or found, including some 23,000 Australians.

  1. Consider the landscape in George Bell’s painting: what obstacles may the Commission have faced in trying to locate the bodies of servicemen?

At home in Australia, communities began erecting honour boards and memorials even while the war was still being fought. In 2014 photographer Trent Parke produced a series of black-and-white images of the Ballarat Avenue of Honour. Stretching for 22 kilometres, the memorial avenue was begun in May 1917, and now comprises 3,801 trees, each planted in honour of a Ballarat serviceman or servicewoman.

  1. Select a photograph from this series that interests you: what makes it so compelling?
  2. Listen to Trent speak about his work in this short interview: what steps did he take to produce these works? What parallels did he uncover?
  3. Visit your local war memorial, and note down the name of a serviceman or servicewomen who served in the First World War. Use the websites of the Australian War Memorial, National Archives of Australia, and Trove to learn more about them, and create a work of art that captures their story.

Trent Parke, Sergeant William Fredrick Granland 1411 (2014 [printed 2016], digital pigment print, AWM2016.538.2)

The idea of a national memorial was conceived by Australia’s first official war correspondent, Charles Bean. Deeply moved by the devastation he had witnessed on Gallipoli and the Western Front, Charles imagined a museum that would not only house the objects that had been collected from the battlefields but also commemorate the thousands who had lost their lives. His vision was finally realised in 1941 when the Australian War Memorial opened to the public.

At the heart of the Memorial lies the Hall of Memory, the final resting place of the Unknown Australian Soldier. The monumental mosaic and stained-glass windows that surround the tomb were designed by Napier Waller, an artist who had served as a bombardier in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Severely wounded in May 1917, Napier had to have his right-arm amputated, but later learned to write and draw with his left hand.

  1. Explore the Hall of Memory: what words are listed on the stained-glass windows? Do you think they accurately describe the qualities displayed by Australians in the First World War? Why or why not?
  2. You can watch a documentary about the Hall of Memory
  3. Read Napier’s service record and his diary. How might his experience on the Western Front have affected the way he chose to portray his subjects in the Hall of Memory?

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