On 5 February 2019 the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester announced that the Unmarked First World War Graves Program will provide funding to help acknowledge the service of First World War Veterans who died after returning from the War and lie in unmarked graves. Click here to read Unmarked First World War Graves Program documents for the two-year pilot program.
There have been a number of local initiatives that have been locating unmarked graves of returned soldiers and nurses who served during The Great War and have endeavoured to have the service of these veterans appropriately recognized at their final resting place. Dedicated volunteers have worked with families, staff of cemeteries, the Office of Australian War Graves, State Government agencies as well as local community groups and businesses to locate the grave, identify the soldiers, locate relatives, obtain appropriate approvals, install appropriate headstones and plaques or markers and facilitate dedications and commemorations. Examples of some of these initiatives follow.
The Tasmanian Headstones Project
The last of the 316 previously unmarked graves of returned Diggers buried in the Cornelian Bay Cemetery in Hobart had their headstones dedicated in a graveside service on Saturday 15 December 2018. After 6 years of researching, finding families, planning, fundraising, organising and co-ordinating, The Headstones Project Sub-Committee of FFFAIF, established in 2012, has completed its initial task.
Around 2010, Tasmanian FFFAIF member John Trethewey, while researching a number of World War One veterans, discovered that a number were resting in unmarked graves in Cornelian Bay Cemetery. To rectify this situation, a group of people including John with historian Andrea Gerrard and Peter Pickering came together as the Commemorations Coalition to see if they could change this situation. In September 2012 FFFAIF formally established the Headstone Projects Sub-committee with Terms of Reference and delegated authority to enable the Commemorations Coalition to establish bank accounts, receive funds and be covered by Public Liability insurance.
On 8th March 2012, the unveiling of first 4 headstones and plaques occurred with further dedications in each of the following 6 years. Dignitaries attending have included Her Excellency Professor the Honourable Kate Warner, Governor of Tasmania, Senator, the Honourable Eric Abetz, Brian Mitchell MP, Mr Jim Wilkinson, President of the Legislative Council. Lieutenant Colonel (Retd.) Andrew Wilkie MHR, the Lord Mayor of Hobart, and the Deputy Commissioner for Veterans’ Affairs in Tasmania and then Chief of Army, Lt-General Angus Campbell, DSC, AM, and, FFFAIF Members Lambis Englezos, Dr Ross McMullin, and Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial.
The Headstones Project, Chaired by Andrea Gerrard OAM, has become a model of how the service and sacrifice of soldiers who returned from the Great War can be recognised through passionate people working in partnership with local community leaders, community groups and businesses, government agencies and ex-service organisations. The project has inspired similar projects in other parts of Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria and NSW.
13 headstones with plaques have been unveiled at the Ulverstone General Cemetery on the north west coast of Tasmania where the local RSL worked with The Headstone Project and at Launceston where 141 unmarked graves have so far been found in Carr Villa Memorial Park, the main cemetery in Launceston.
The South Australian Headstone Project
In May 2016, the FFFAIF Committee established a South Australian Headstone Project Sub-committee on the same basis as the Tasmanian Headstone Project with FFFAIF member John Brownlie as Chair, and mentored by Andrea and Ron Gerrard. Considerable support for the project has been building and their first headstone was unveiled on Remembrance Day 2017.
Grave markers at Sandgate Cemetery, Newcastle
In NSW at Sandgate Cemetery in Newcastle, more than 850 soldiers of the Great War are thought to have their final resting place and about 400 soldiers are memorialised on their web-site at http://sandgate.northerncemeteries.com.au/index.php/war-heroes. Based on the research undertaken by Gary Mitchell over the past decade, more than 100 wooden crosses made by the Morpeth Men’s Shed have been installed on previously unmarked graves of returned soldiers. A particular example of how this has helped bring families together is the commemorative service for Pte Cressy KIA Fromelles 19 July 1916 on the centenary of his death at the previously unmarked grave of his parents- see http://fffaif.org.au/?p=814 for the story of searching for any relatives in 2008 with the results in 2016 at https://www.theherald.com.au/story/4040009/finding-private-harry-fromelles-remembered-photos-video/?cs=305#slide=21.
Unofficial war memorials on graves at Rookwood General Cemetery, Sydney
Rookwood Necropolis, the largest cemetery in Australia, has over the past 4 years identified 1,756 unofficial war memorials on graves and cleaned and restored many of these. Where the grave-site has previously been unmarked by any monumental work or commemorative plaque, non-permanent markers have been installed to display the name of soldier. This work has been undertaken by Rookwood staff who have expressed an interest in being involved in this project as explained by CEO George Simpson in the video at http://www.rookwoodcemetery.com.au/assets/video/Rookwood%20Remembrance.mp4.
Developing a national network of Headstone Projects
Co-inciding with the milestone of the dedication of the headstones on the last of the 316 previously unmarked graves in the Cornelian Bay Cemetery, a “Headstone Projects Roundtable” was held in Hobart to bring together some of those people working on similar headstone projects. Their objective was to share experiences and learning, improve consistency of memorialisations, better co-ordinate their activities and provide support to each other, and perhaps obtain some economies of scale. One of the outcomes was to develop an national network for groups working to appropriately memorialise the service of returned soldiers and nurses who currently have unmarked graves.
If you are aware of local efforts to recognise the service of sacrifice of soldiers of The Great War on their graves or to list or photograph local graves of soldiers, and that you think that would benefit by FFFAIF support, or you would like to join the Headstone Project efforts, please send details to email@example.com.
Sales of Rembrella Poppy Umbrellas help fund headstones for unmarked graves of Great War veterans
With the cost of each headstone and commemorative plaque costing about $400 each, the bulk of funding has come from community fundraising and business and government grants as well as the significant discounts and contributions in kind by project-partners. In addition, FFFAIF has contributed funds from the sale of Rembrella poppy umbrellas to the Headstone Project. If you would like to support the Headstone Project by purchasing a Rembrella poppy umbrella, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.