From an Australian perspective, in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War on 11th November 1918, it is envisaged that the numbers of visitors to the First World War battlefields will reach record numbers. Sacred war grave and sites across Europe in particularly Flanders will be somber and emotional. In Belgium, where I have recently been preoccupied in my research for my ambitious blog series, covering the First World War I in 100 blog entries, there will be thousands of people attending the commemorations at the Menin Gate at Ieper (Ypres) this year. Approximately 300,000 thousands of soldiers passed that way on their way to their deaths. At the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, you will find the names of tens of thousands of Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient. Included amongst the names of the fallen are those soldier’s graves that are also unknown.
Memorials, such as the Menin Gate, gave War veterans and relatives and friends of those who died during the war, a place to observe and lay wreaths in memory of the fallen. Commemoration and paying our respect to every soldier that fought in the First World War goes back to the early 1920’s, when immediate family members and friends first started to visit graves in battlefields. Though for those who were unable to travel, governments in their own countries started to erect local memorials to fill that deep void many felt. One such place, a little closer to home in my home State of Victoria is the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. In a few days time, it will be flooded with servicemen and women and Melburnians of all walks of life.
The Shrine of Remembrance is arguably our most recognized landmark. It was built between 1928 and 1934 to remember those who served and those who died in the Great War. This Tuesday marks the eightieth anniversary since a gentleman by the name of Prince Henry, the son of King George V and Queen Mary, dedicated the Shrine. Back in 1934, an estimated 300,000 people attended Armistice Day services, of which 27,000 were war veterans themselves. Today, this solemn tradition continues and although no First World war veteran are still alive to walk beside us, we shall still honor them and their fallen comrades, I hope forever. The Shrine is, of course, today also home to more than just the First World War. We have over the years saw fit to commemorate all our war dead in all the wars since our federation.
On a personal note, I wont be able to make it to the Shrine itself in a few days time, though I plan to sit underneath a different memorial a few miles up the road from my home in Wattle Park. It is one of only a few sites around Australia that pine trees have been grown from original pine cones brought back from the Battle of Lone Pine in Gallipoli, which were planted in the 1930’s.
Wattle Park’s Lone Pine grown from Gallipoli Lone Pine seedlings. Photo by Robert Horvat
The header image is the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. Photographed by Robert Horvat.