War Memorials of Western Australia
DULCE BELLUM INEXPERTIS
War Memorials as we know them, that is the stone monuments with lists of names inscribed on them are comparatively new in the English speaking world. Throughout time, victorious Commanders have been rewarded by their Government's with, in the Roman Empire, Triumphs and a seat in the Senate or a Consulship plus grants of land whilst in the West, land and generous pensions plus a public statue. The ordinary foot soldiers, apart from the possibility of loot from the conquered and a miserly pension if they were disabled, were seldom publicly acknowledged. Generally, soldiers, as individuals, were considered to be in the lowest strata of society and treated accordingly, even Wellington after his success in the Penisular Wars (1812/13) could only describe the soldiers who had achieved the victories as "scum". After Waterloo the denture makers of Europe including Britain hastened to the battlefield to extract good teeth from the fallen. A routine shipping report of 1822 noted that amongst cargo landed at the port of Hull was a million bushels of bones recovered from the battlefields of Europe that were to be ground up and sold to farmers as fertiliser! The Crimean War (1853/56) marked the turning point, extensive news coverage by reporters on the spot and the publicity obtained by Florence Nightingale highlighted the trials and tribulations of the ordinary soldier to the British public and gave him a human face. With the creation of the Victoria Cross in 1856, the highest gallantry medal that could be awarded by the British Government and, for the very first time, a medal that other ranks as well as Officers were eligible for, it became very difficult to ignore Private Smith VC when his name and deeds were recorded in the London Gazette alongside Majors and Brigadiers or Rt.Hons. In the English speaking world the advent of the citizen soldier, a person who left his civilian occupation to take up arms for a cause in which he believed, also changed the public's perception of the soldier. The man who repaired your shoes, baked your bread or taught your children and who had volunteered to defend the things you believed in could not be left to an anonymous grave on some distant battle field without some public recognition of the sacrifice made, thus the public memorial came into being. After the Amercan Civil War (1861/65) many towns erected public Memorials recording the names of their people who had fallen in the War, these were generally called 'Soldiers Memorials'. The Boer War (1899/1902) brought War Memorials as we know them to Australia, Britains forces in this conflict were from their regular army but the Commonwealth forces were,in the main, volunteers from all walks of life; citizen soldiers worthy of their sacrifices being acknowledged in a public Memorial. The horrific slaughter of WW1brought a new importance to the place of War Memorials in Australian society, very few of the population were not touched either through family ties or social interaction with the men who had died and would never have burial in their home country; a site where they could remember and grieve for them became very important. For example, in the small farming town of Kellerberrin seventyfive of it's menfolk died in Europe; Rememberance Day and Anzac Day ceremonies at this Memorial would in the years immediately following 1918 been extremely personal in that the majorityof those attending would have been related to or known of those they were honouring and grieving for. As the years have passed this personal connection has become diluted by natural attrition, today, very few of those attending the ceremonies have any personal knowledge of the men for whom our Memorials were built. In the last few years rather than grieving, our gathering at War Memorials seems to be more of a thanksgiving for the Society the sacrifice of these men has given us. This theory appears to be confirmed by the fact that not one of the Memorials recently built in Towns that didn't previously have one show the names of the fallen.
There is no central registry of Memorials in W.A.*, this site attempts to list some of them and will be added to as new material comes to hand.At the end of WW1 every town had felt it's effects with a high proportion of young men volunteering for service with many never to return from the battlefields. To commemorate and honour these men committees of local dignitaries and ex-Servicemen were formed in Towns and Districts throughout the State (some as early as 1915) to raise funds, decide on the type of Memorial and oversee it's construction. These committees were completely autonomous thus the type, design and wording varied from town to town, sometimes they were street monuments and in other places community buildings such as Hospitals, Libraries and Bandstands. The WW1 period was variously shown as 1914-18 or 1914-19 with some Memorials naming only those who died whilst others show the names of all who served. Subsequent conflicts WW2, Malaya, Korea, Borneo and Vietnam have, mostly, been commemorated by additions to the WW1 monuments. As well as these types of Memorials most communites also had Honour Boards constructed giving the names of all who had served, Honour Boards exist for both WW1 & WW2; these Boards were hung in the Town Halls or administrative Offices. The history of how many of the WW1 Memorials came to be built - siting, financing, design etc., is hard to find so I would appreciate hearing from anyone who could add to the information given on these pages.
--- Rufus Cole ---
* The State Govt. started to compile one in April '04
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© Rufus Cole, 2000