Sunday, 10 November 2013

War Memorials in the Landscape - Part 1

Remembrance Day on 11th November marks the anniversary of the armistice which ended World War I in 1918. Every year on this day Australians stop at 11am to observe a minute's silence to remember all those who have given their lives during all wars and conflicts, in the service of their country.

This magnificent bronze statute depicting Simpson and his Donkey assisting an injured soldier is in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Photo:  T. Fielding, 2012.
We solemnly observe this anniversary every year, but what about the countless war memorials that are dotted throughout the north Queensland landscape?  Do we ever stop and look at them?  Do we ever really consider their meaning, or consider how the different memorials reflect changing attitudes towards commemoration itself?  War memorials throughout the whole of Queensland are surprisingly varied, many are practical or functional, and there are some that are actually quite unique.

Charters Towers War Memorial Cenotaph.
Photo: T. Fielding, 2012.
When most people think of war memorials, the familiar soldier standing atop a stone plinth tends to spring to mind. The Charters Towers War Memorial Cenotaph (pictured above) commemorates those who served and died in both World Wars, the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), the Korean War (1950-1953), the Indonesian Confrontation (1962-66) and the Vietnam War (1962-1972). The soldier's pose is a typical example of such memorials - with the soldier depicted in repose, head bowed slightly in a solemn manner, with rifle pointing downwards.  The Cairns Sailors and Soldiers Memorial (below) depicts a soldier in a similar fashion, although the memorial itself is rather more imposing. It stands 12.5 metres high, and the statue of the soldier is life-sized. The soldier stands at ease atop a clock tower, the faces of which are now painted on and no longer functional.  According to the Queensland War Memorial Register, the time on the clock reads 4.28am, the time of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli. The memorial commemorates those who died in World War I.
Cairns Soldiers and Sailors Memorial.
Photo:  Trisha Fielding, 2014.

According to Ken Inglis, author of Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, 'the great majority of soldier statues depict men in passive rather than active stances'.  He further argues that 'for every figure showing warlike action, about ten depict repose'.  The only known war memorial in Queensland that depicts a solider in an animated pose is in Atherton (see below).  The soldier is depicted striding forward holding a rifle with fixed bayonet in one hand and the other other arm is raised, to represent advancing from the trenches in victory.  The memorial commemorates both the First and Second World Wars. 
Soldier atop the Atherton War Memorial.
Photo:  Queensland War Memorial Register.
The soldier-style memorial is by no means the most common post-World War I memorial.  More common are the column, obelisk or pillar memorials.  But what is most interesting about Australian war memorials, is that those who served but returned from war are also listed on a great many memorials - not just those that died.  Ken Inglis has stated: 'More commonly than anybody else in the world, they [Australians] listed on memorials the names of men who had returned, as well as those who had died'.  Inglis estimates that the names of soldiers who survived the war were inscribed on just over half of Australia's war memorials.  But why?

The answer may lie in the fact that the Australians who enlisted and fought during World War I, did so voluntarily.  The prevailing rhetoric of the day appears to suggest that all those who passed by a war memorial should know the names of the men who had heard the call of duty and answered it.  Conversely though, it also means that, particularly in small towns, people could also see who had not answered the call of duty.

But what about those that enlisted but were rejected, on health grounds, for instance?  In Montville, in Queensland, the war memorial there includes enlistments as well as those that were 'rejected'.  Inglis believes that the Montville memorial may be unique in this regard, although he points out that sometimes soldiers who enlisted but were rejected are listed on honour boards. (I'll talk a bit more about honour boards in a subsequent post).

Boer War Memorial Kiosk, Charters Towers.
Photo:  T. Fielding, 2012.
Certainly war memorials existed in Australia before World War I. After the Boer War (also called the South African War, 1899-1902) over 100 memorials were erected throughout Australia. Charters Towers is home to an unusual monument to those who served in the Boer War - a memorial kiosk (pictured above).

Read Part 2 of War Memorials in the Landscape here

Sources & Further Reading:
Ken Inglis, Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, The Miegunyah Press, 2008.

Queensland War Memorial Register,

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