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At the Going Down of the Sun

Remembrance and Commemoration after the First World War

One hundred years on, evidence of the impact of the First World War can be plainly seen across Victoria. Built heritage including cenotaphs, statues, plaques and obelisks are peppered across the state’s public spaces, each dedicated to the commemoration of the war service of the thousands of Victorians who served between 1914 and 1918.

Many of these men and women died in active service and were buried overseas, so locally built monuments served as important places to mourn and remember them. They were places for private and collective mourning, commemoration and remembrance.

These memorials were truly local; often built through community fundraising and supported by communities who shared a sense of loss. Most are inscribed with the names of those who died from the region, while others list the names of all those who served.

Across Victoria, cenotaphs and built memorials remain central to Anzac Day services, but the way we commemorate has changed with each generation and so has the way we remember and mourn the servicemen of the First World War. Photographic and material culture collections from across the state, catalogued here on Victorian Collections, capture some of the tangible and intangible heritage associated with the shifting ways we commemorate the First World War. They provide meaningful insight in to our society and how we make sense of war and loss.

Opening of Port Fairy War Memorial, c. 1923

Port Fairy Historical Society

At the conclusion of the First World War in 1918, the small Victorian coastal town of Port Fairy had a population of around 2000 people. The Port Fairy War Memorial, depicted here at its opening just over a decade later, lists the names of 233 fallen and returned servicemen from the district. The sheer scale of participation in the First World War from a small rural setting is not unusual and the effect on the town is reflected in the size of the crowd attending the opening.

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Kangaroo Ground War Memorial Tower, 1951

Eltham District Historical Society Inc

There are thousands of built war heritage sites across Victoria that memorialise service in conflicts other than the First World War. These can be accessed via the Victorian War Heritage Inventory. Often First World War memorials were amended to include commemoration for those who fell or served in the Second World War. Some towns have erected monuments to acknowledge massacres of Aboriginal people that occurred during the 19th century.

The Kangaroo Ground War Memorial Tower was unveiled in 1926. An additional plaque was added in 1951 to commemorate service in the Second World War and the tower was modified again in subsequent years.

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Greensborough War Memorial, photographed in its original location in the early 1920s

Greensborough Historical Society

As generations and towns changed, sometimes war memorials were moved to make way for roads, buildings and other public infrastructure. This memorial drinking fountain in Greensborough is an example of a war memorial that was moved, possibly in the 1950s. The Victorian War Memorial Inventory lists more than 5,000 sites and places of commemoration found across the State. Cross referenced with photographs held in community collections, it is possible to understand just how ubiquitous and important these memorials are.

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Postcard of the Arch of Victory and Avenue of Honour, Ballarat

Sovereign Hill and Gold Museum

Built memorials were sometimes coupled with avenues of honour; trees that lined main streets, with each tree bearing a plaque dedicated to someone who served. Just like the built memorials, avenues of honour were considered permanent and grand commemorative gestures. The Ballarat Avenue of Honour was planted between 1917 and 1919. In total, 3,914 trees were planted, each with a plate bearing a soldier’s name and battalion. The Arch of Victory serves as a grand entranceway to the Avenue of Honour, both of which were built through the dedicated fundraising and planning efforts of the ‘Lucas Girls’, factory workers from the Ballarat based Lucas Clothing Factory.

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Corindhap Avenue of Honour, 2015

Victorian Interpretive Projects Inc.

Hundreds of avenues of honour were planted across Victoria as tributes to the soldiers who served in the First World War. Both built war memorials and avenues of honour were intended to be permanent, physical sites for commemoration. Unlike built memorials, avenues of honour required significant upkeep and proved expensive. Landscapes, streetscapes and communities change and trees eventually die.

One hundred years on, some of Victoria’s avenues of honour have been lost or forgotten, however many communities are making concerted efforts to document, preserve and restore them.

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Victorian Postmaster General's Department First World War Roll of Honour, 1920

Telstra Museum, Melbourne

Thousands of honour boards were made to commemorate soldiers who served in the First World War. They were local and specific. Most honour boards list names in alphabetical order, with brothers, cousins, uncles and fathers who served listed alongside one another. The number of honour boards that were crafted reflect the immense loss felt in communities and families and they reflect the importance for them of remembering those who served and died.

The aesthetics of a First World War honour board vary and some are ornate and very beautiful with intricate hand carved and painted motifs. Many feature gold leaf lettering on wood whilst others are carved marble. This honour board, commemorating the service of men employed at the Victorian Postmaster General's Department, is hand painted on paper.

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Melbourne Harbour Trust First World War Honour Board, c. 1918

Seaworks Maritime Discovery Centre

Honour boards were created not just by RSLs, but by schools, fire brigades, churches, community organisations, trade unions and workplaces. Inevitably, the last hundred years have seen community organisations close or relocate and many honour boards have been donated to local RSLs or museums. Other honour boards have been rediscovered in utility rooms and basements after decades of storage.

This honour board was removed from display when the Melbourne Harbour Trust moved buildings in the 1980s. It was rediscovered and displayed a decade later before being donated to Seaworks Maritime Discovery Centre.

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Anzac Day, 1990

Geelong RSL Sub Branch

The objects and built heritage associated with wartime leave physical evidence of the ways that Australian communities remembered and rebuilt after the First World War. What they do not capture is the intangible aspects of war; the lives of the men who returned but were forever changed, the close bond these men felt with one another and the importance of ceremony and ritual in commemoration and mourning.

Although these built heritage sites are often still the places our communities come together to pay their respects to those who served, the monuments themselves do not capture just how much the function of marches has changed or the personal and inter-generational impacts and legacies of the First World War. Photographs and other documentation of commemorative occasions help to shed light on the changing nature of ceremony and remembrance in Australia.

This image depicts First World War servicemen, marching at the 75th Anzac Day Memorial Service in 1990. The men shake hands with the applauding crowd. Today, there are no longer any returned servicemen from the First World War to attend.

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Inaugural march at Tidal River, 1964.

Australian Commando Association (Victoria)

This contrasting image shows Commandos who served in the Second World War, marching towards the newly unveiled memorial cairn in Tidal River in November of 1964. The street is not crowd lined, it is not Anzac Day and these men fought in a different war. The contrast between the two images offers insight in to understanding the different purposes marches have served across time and communities.

Community collecting organisations across the state hold thousands of images and objects that provide glimpses of the tangible and intangible way Victorians have and continue to remember and commemorate war service.

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