The centrepiece of the Australian War Memorial is the absolutely stunning and evocative Hall of Memory, containing the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier. It is located at the far end of the commemorative courtyard, past the Pool of Reflection. Walk straight ahead when you enter the War Memorial.
While the War Memorial and the Hall of Memory were conceived immediately after World War I to honour the sacrifices of those taking part in that war, construction did not start until 1936 due to a combination of budget and design difficulties.
By the time the War Memorial itself was officially opened in 1941, World War II was underway and in 1945 it was decided that the mosaics included in the design of the yet to be completed Hall of Memory would be dedicated to the fallen in that War while the beautiful stained glass windows would be dedicated to the fallen of WWI. The Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier and the Four Pillars sculpture were added in 1993. I have prepared a separate review on the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier.
What a wonderful place to stand and reflect.
Here let’s have a look at the stained glass windows and the Four Pillars sculpture, but before that I should say that my first picture (above), which provides you with an ‘overview’ of the Hall of Memory, is courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. While I am not averse to using pictures other than my own, suitably acknowledged, I do try to use one of my own images as my main picture on each review. In this instance visitors cannot ascend into the dome, from where this picture was taken, and to get a decent shot taking in a significant area of the large and high Hall from the ground would have required a much wider angle lens than I have.
The three stained glass windows, installed between1947 to 1950, give the Hall the feeling of a cathedral and make the whole place especially beautiful when the light floods in through them. They were designed by Napier Waller who, incidentally, lost his right arm in the Great War at the Battle of Bullecourt in 1917.
Each window has five panels with each panel featuring a figure in uniform with equipment from World War 1. Additionally each panel represents a quintessential quality displayed by Australians in war.
The south window (above), above the entrance door, depicts an aircraftman, a signaler, a nurse, an infantryman and a naval captain which in turn, and respectively, represent the personal qualities of resource, candour, devotion, curiosity and independence.
The west window (above) depicts a Lewis gunner, a naval gunner, an infantryman, an airman and an artilleryman which in turn, and respectively, represent the social qualities of comradeship, ancestry, patriotism, chivalry and loyalty.
The east window (above) depicts an infantry officer, an infantryman, a light horseman, a wounded soldier, and an Australian soldier in a uniform worn at Anzac Cove (Gallipoli) which in turn, and respectively, represent the fighting qualities of youth and enterprise – coolness, control, audacity, endurance and decision.
Continuing with the symbolism in the Hall of Memory, in a niche at the rear of the Hall is the Four Pillars sculpture (pictured below, directly below where picture 1 was taken from, so out of sight in that image) which was added to the Hall of Memory in 1993 when the unknown Australian soldier was interred therein. The sculpture and the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier were designed by Architects Tonkin Zulaikha Harford and artist Janet Laurence.
The Four Pillars sculpture stands 9.3 metres high and each pillar represents one of the four basic elements. The sculpture symbolises creation and adds an additional element to the contemplative atmosphere in the Hall of Memory.
The War Memorial’s web site elaborates thus:
The Air pillar is made of wood; the jarrah with its polished surface is associated with breath and flight, with the disembodied spirit and the souls of the dead.
The Fire pillar is made of metal, and its edges suggest a sword, tempered by flame; it is associated with energy and passion, patriotism and bravery.
The Earth pillar is made of marble, associated with permanence and strength; it is the earth on which we live and to which we return in the coldness of death.
The Water pillar is made of glass, ice-like and colourless. Water is the source of life and symbolises flow and change, thus linking earthly life and the souls of the dead.
While the stained glass windows are beautiful, they are not unlike those found in any large cathedral, though their subject matter of military personnel and other trappings of a military life certainly does differentiate them from the average cathedral window. What is perhaps more unique here are the mosaics (all 6.12 million pieces, or 15 tonne, making it one of the largest in the world) found in the Hall of Memory. No, Dear Reader, I did not count them – some things you just have to accept! I adore mosaics and have oft been tempted to create a mosaic of my own – something rather more modest than this, I feel.
While the windows are a dedication to the memory of WWI the wall mosaics are dedicated to the memory of WWII.
Of particular interest and beauty in the mosaics, which cover the entire interior of the Hall of Memory, are the four much larger than life (12 metres), almost stylised, figures representing the navy, the army, the air force and women’s services. Look carefully, can you see a tear running down the service woman’s cheek? The erect, formal posture and large eyes of the figures recall classical Greek sculptures and the Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna in Italy, which Napier Waller, the designer of both the windows and the mosaics, visited in the 1920s.
The ensure the accuracy of the mosaic, rather than placing each of the 6 million plus Italian glass tesserae directly onto the bare walls of the Hall they were assembled, in 24 by 18-inch sections, onto backing sheets in Melbourne by Waller (himself a WWI veteran) and a group of volunteer war widows. They were then shipped to Canberra for assembly. All in all a three years long and tedious process but, like me, I am sure you will agree, worth it in the end, given the quality of the final product.
The serviceperson’s height and upright positioning draw the viewer into looking upwards, bringing his or her attention to the beautiful mosaic dome, 24 metres above the tomb of the Australian Unknown Soldier.
Like other components of the Hall of Memory the dome, which boldly depicts the ascent of the spirits of the fallen (symbolised by simplified winged coffins, in shapes reminiscent of Egyptian mummies), is full of symbolism which I won’t go into the detail of here. Suffice to ask you to identify, in addition to the ascending spirits, the seven rays of light (themselves based on the Rising Sun, the emblem of the Australian Infantry Force) emanating from the central sun. Each ray represents one of Australia’s States and Territories. Also identify the stars of the Southern Cross superimposed over the sun.
The Memorial’s website in referring to the dome states how:
It evokes the renewal of life’s forces and celebrates the immortality of those who believed in freedom and ultimately died to defend it.
These words, I believe, could be equally applied to the whole War Memorial.
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