Saturday, November 9, 2013


The Great War changed this nation in so many ways- it's no surprise that the losses are commemorated everywhere.

Researching for my novel recently, I wanted to check what people at home knew about Australian casualties as of July 1915, three months into the Gallipoli campaign. I checked out the The West Australian newspaper from the time, and what I found there was a stunning statistic that brought home exactly the reason those days still echo down the through the years with such resonance.

On July 19th 1915, 85 days after the ANZAC landing and the start of Australia's war, the newspapers published the Fifty-Third Casualty List. And the totals at that point in the war, just three months in, were as follows:

That is:

2307 Australians killed
8418 Australians wounded
746 missing in action.

A total of 11,471 casualties in just three months. Eight-five days to take a whole nation from innocence, to utter devastation.

It's a stunning impact on a population of only 4.9 million, which included 2.58 million males. What it means, when you break it down into cold, hard numbers, is that nearly five in every one thousand Australian men had been killed, injured or lost in just three months.

One in every two hundred men in this nation, in three months.

It is a mind-boggling number, and the war was only just beginning. There would be another three-and-a-half devastating years to come, over the course of which close to 40% of the men of this country would enlist to fight, and of whom more than one in ten would never come home.

It's why we can't, and won't, forget. The sacrifice belonged to everyone in this country, and it still does today. Nobody was left unaffected.

Wherever I travel within the state of Western Australia or in the rest of the country, I make a point of stopping to see the local memorials. With Remembrance Day marking another point to pause and remember tomorrow, here are just a few of those.

Albany, Western Australia

The Desert Mounted Corps memorial (top left) in Albany sits at the top of Mount Clarence, and the Avenue of Honour leads up to it, lined with trees and plaques that commemorate local lives lost. The hill offers a view out across King George Sound, where many of the ships gathered before departing as the first Australian Imperial Force on November 1st, 1914, on their way to war. Most of Western Australia's troops departed from the port city of Fremantle to join the convoy, but Albany will always have a special place in our war history, and I plan to be there for the centenary of the departure next year.

Perth, Western Australia

There are multiple memorials to many different conflicts at Perth's Kings Park, which sits above the city centre. This is the principal state First World War memorial, with the Cenotaph at the far end, overlooking the Swan River, and the Court of Contemplation, the Flame of Remembrance, and the pool of reflection in the foreground. The largest ANZAC Day dawn service is held here every year; this year the numbers were some of the largest ever, with more than 40,000 people coming along to remember.

Blackboy Hill Commemorative Site, Greenmount, Western Australia

As a couple of previous posts have discussed, the great majority of Western Australia's 32,000 troops passed through the training camp at Blackboy Hill (now Greenmount) in the Perth hills over the course of the First World War. There's little left at the site now, but the memorial is very special- on the eve of ANZAC Day each year, the setting sun aligns with all parts of the memorial to create a unified shadow representing the spirit of the ANZAC soldiers whose legacy was born here.

Mingenew, Western Australia

Most country towns in Australia have a memorial to the Great War, and this one in the small mid-west town of Mingenew is one example. There was a high enlistment rate from the local population, and the losses are remembered today, there as in so many other small towns that lost sons, brothers and fathers.

Geraldton, Western Australia 

The regional city of Geraldton on Australia's west coast has one of the most glorious memorials I've ever seen. It commemorates an event of the Second World War, not the First, but I include it here because it represents the fact that the Great War was far from the only arena in which Australians died in battle. The memorial here is for the loss of the HMAS Sydney, an Australian battleship that was sunk by a German raider not far off the coast, with the loss of all hands. The location of the lost ship was a mystery for many years, until it was finally rediscovered through some fantastic maritime archaeology work in 2008. The dome you see in the picture below is made of seagull silhouettes- 645 of them, each one representing a lost life from the Sydney. As they take flight into the sky, the statue of a woman waits nearby, looking out to sea. There's a stele representing the ship's bow, and a pool with a final seagull marking the now-known location of the ship on a map.

Alice Springs, Northern Territory

This simple memorial sits at the top of ANZAC Hill in the central desert town of Alice Springs, commemorating the fallen from all wars.

Adelaide, South Australia

I just visited the Adelaide memorials last week, and there are several. The central memorial, known as the National War Memorial, is a stunning and imposing structure on the city's North Terrace, with two sides showing the before and after of war. The front side shows the before, with the youth of Adelaide- girl, student and farmer- laying down the tools of their everyday lives to reach for the Spirit of Duty. The reverse shows the aftermath, in which a fallen youth is lifted by the Spirit of Compassion.

This dramatic picture of the front side of the memorial was taken by the talented Melanie Michaels, a fellow war historian and author.

Sydney, New South Wales

One of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring war memorials in the nation is the ANZAC Memorial in Sydney's Hyde Park. The building and the sculptures it contains are extraordinary, and the museum housed within is also well worth a visit. The central sculpture, Sacrifice, is the most perfectly heart-breaking encapsulation of what the Great War meant to this country, depicting a fallen soldier borne aloft by his mother, sister, wife and child. From the memorial's website, where you can also see a picture of it:
'Thousands of women, although not directly engaged in war activities, lost all that was dear them - sons they has borne and reared, husbands, fathers of their children, friends, lovers.

There was no acknowledgement of them in casualty lists of wounded, maimed and killed. They endured all men's sacrifice quietly'.
'In this spirit I have shown them, carrying their load, the sacrifice of their menfolk.'

In modern times, we've seen that load passed down to us, and we carry it still.

This Remembrance Day and all others, we remember them.


  1. Claire, once again, I'm reminded of the losses that we in the US will also remember tomorrow. And I'm once again, amazed by the care and dedication with which you mark them. Thank you for remembering in such a moving way.

  2. Thanks for sharing these photos, Claire.

    Your numbers-that-aren't-just-numbers are making me cry again and I was already bawling yesterday watching our Remembrance Day ceremonies from Ottawa. The more I read all the stories of individuals in WWI and WWII the more I know there's a story of not just a person but an entire family behind every statistic and it always tugs my heart.