Pride of place in the Australian War Memorial’s beautiful and tranquil Hall of Memory goes to the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier.
The idea to entomb an unknown soldier in Australia was first put forward in the 1920s after Britain had interred its unknown soldier at Westminster Abbey and the French had done likewise at the Arc de Triomphe. The idea did not come to fruition until 1993 when the remains of an unknown Australian solder were brought home to this, his final resting place.
The unknown Australian soldier’s remains were recovered from the Adelaide Cemetery near Villers-Bretonneaux in France and after briefly lying in state at Villers-Bretonneux, Menin Gate at Ypres in Belgium and in the King’s Hall in Old Parliament House in Canberra the Unknown Soldier was interred in the Hall of Memory on 11 November 1993, exactly 75 years after the end of World War I. Soil from the French battlefield of Pozieres was scattered on his Tasmanian blackwood coffin, on which had been placed a bayonet and sprig of wattle.
Part of the eulogy for the unknown soldier, read by the then Prime Minister Paul Keating read:
We do not know this Australian’s name and we never will. We do not know his rank or battalion. We do not know where he was born, nor precisely how he died … We will never know who this Australian was … he was one of the 45,000 Australians who died on the Western Front … one of the 60,000 Australians who died on foreign soil. One of the 100,000 Australians who died in wars this century. He is all of them. And he is one of us.
I find the words ‘He is all of them. And he is one of us’ particularly moving and something worthy of reflection by all.
The fully eulogy text is displayed on a brass plaque in the vestibule of the Hall of Memory.
The tomb, covered by a slab of red marble, was designed by Architects Tonkin Zulaikha Harford and artist Janet Laurence and sits under the Hall’s dome. It is inscribed:
Known unto God
An unknown Australian soldier killed in the war of 1914–1918
He symbolises all Australians who have died in war
While known only unto God, his name is one of the 61,514 from World War I inscribed on plaques lining the walls in the commemorative courtyard though which you will have passed to reach his tomb. Around 23,000 unknown Australian soldiers from World War I lie in graves with headstones bearing the simple inscription: ‘An Australian soldier of the Great War, known unto God’.
Lest we Forget.
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