Remembrance Day 2019: Australian War Memorial compiles a digital register of the nation's war memorials

THE 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

So it was, that the terrible bloodshed of on the Western Front drew to a formal close on that historic November morning in 1918, when Germany signed an armistice, or truce, in the northern French city of Compiegne. Although the Treaty of Versailles would not be signed until the following June, it was November 11 - Armistice Day originally, Veterans Day in the US, but Remembrance Day in Australia and across much of the English speaking world - that became the significant historical marker.

November 11 might sit somewhat in the shadow of Anzac Day for us but, even so, the nation will pause on Monday, wearing a collective fund-raising poppy, to silently remember the sacrifices of war.

Prior to Remembrance Day last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled an Australian War Memorial effort to establish a digital register of war memorials, titled Places of Pride. A year later, the project is hitting its stride, with some 7000 war memorials already marked on its website and more photos being uploaded regularly by enthusiastic contributors.

The Canberra memorial is already using professional archivists to digitise its enormous collection of military records and memorabilia. Places of Pride, on the other hand, aims to embrace the public's interest in our war history, by encouraging as many people as possible to help build and expand the collection.

The museum's director is Brendan Nelson, the former GP and senior federal Liberal politician, who is about to stand down after seven years in the job. He told Weekender that Places of Pride would become an interactive display in the new galleries of the war memorial, once they were built. He spoke of a former RAAF group captain who would "touch the names of his mates who died in their service to the country", each time he visited the Canberra memorial, as a gesture of remembrance and connection.

"The more we can encourage local communities, local RSLs, local people, to photograph the memorials in their area, and to upload them to the website, the more we can keep those connections going for a new era of understanding," Nelson said.

MILITARY STEEL: Newcastle's Anzac Walk, completed in 2015 on the cliffs next to another pathway with a commemorative theme, Memorial Drive, the road running south to Bar Beach. Picture: Graeme Bray, Places of Pride

MILITARY STEEL: Newcastle's Anzac Walk, completed in 2015 on the cliffs next to another pathway with a commemorative theme, Memorial Drive, the road running south to Bar Beach. Picture: Graeme Bray, Places of Pride

Project manager Terri-Anne Simmonds says Places of Pride uses a broad definition of a memorial to include everything from the obvious plaques and statues through to stained glass windows, dedicated benches and planted avenues.

"We want it to be a comprehensive register of the old, the new, the prominent and the hard-to-find," she says. "If people look at the website now, we have 7000 memorials identified, and you can see which ones we need photos for. And we think there may be another 4000 to 5000 still to go, that aren't yet on our maps."

Historian David Dial is well known for finding and preserving snippets of war history.

Dial says that Newcastle's Gardner Memorial - the archetypal digger high on his plinth, standing "at rest on arms" with his slouch hat and .303 Lee-Enfield - is regarded as the first "soldier memorial" in Australia. The foundation stone was laid on April 4, 1916, but it took until September for the statue to arrive by ship from Italy, and the memorial was officially unveiled on the afternoon of September 16, 1916.

Like most Australian towns, Newcastle has its share of war memorials, such as the stone column - made of polished Bowral trachyte (a hard igneous rock) - outside a health care centre on Brunker Road.

Why a health care centre? Gerard Williams of Adamstown Anzac Committee says it was installed there in 1960 when the site held the Adamstown RSL club. Before that, it had stood less than 100 metres away at the intersection of Brunker Road and Glebe Road, having been dedicated in 1921 and built from funds raised by public subscription. The RSL club shut in 2014 and Williams says the RSL sub-branch is hoping for a government grant to help in shifting the memorial to Adamstown Park, a few blocks way down Glebe Road.

Monument Australia founder Diane Watson.

Monument Australia founder Diane Watson.

One of the Hunter's most popular tourist attractions, the Anzac Walk, is also a war memorial, having opened in 2015 to mark the centenary of Gallipoli and the opening of BHP's Newcastle steelworks. Dial compiled the list of almost 3900 surnames inscribed on the silhouettes of soldiers and nurses lining the elevated walkway.

Place of Pride's Terri-Anne Simmonds says the road beside Anzac Walk - Memorial Avenue, Bar Beach, might also qualify as a war memorial, either through its naming or if it was built by returned soldiers. Simmonds says Places of Pride wants to recognise and promote the symbols and sacrifices of more recent deployments, from the Korean and Vietnam wars through to Australia's contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as various peacekeeping roles, such as East Timor and in the Pacific.

And then there's the growing awareness of Indigenous contributions to earlier wars, typified by the "brothers-in-arms" Harold West and George Leonard, who fought the Japanese in New Guinea and who died within a month of each in 1942. Places of Pride tells their story. RSLs and state governments have shared significant collections, and Simmonds says local government - including Dubbo Regional Council, which has uploaded more than 50 images - are encouraged to take part.

One of Dubbo's contributions is a bust commissioned in 2012 of pilot Rawdon Hume Hamilton, whose efforts in saving his crew on his 29th and final bombing run in November 1942 resulted in a posthumous Victoria Cross. He was 26.

 INSPIRED: An ethereal twist on a traditional column. Albury War Memorial. Picture: Peter F. Williams, Places of Pride

INSPIRED: An ethereal twist on a traditional column. Albury War Memorial. Picture: Peter F. Williams, Places of Pride

The Places of Pride website is easy to use and there is, indeed, a wide variety of memorials, although with many listings in need of photographs. Contributors are invited to upload stories about the monuments, adding to the key identifying information for each listing. Old images, as well, would help tell the stories of individual monuments over time.

There's Tamworth's Waler Memorial, a life-like bronze of the light horse and its rider by Newcastle sculptor Tanya Bartlett, was unveiled in 2005. The extraordinary white tower of Albury War Memorial, built in 1925 but looking from a distance like a rocket at launch. And in another park, the extraordinary Bathurst Carillon - a 30-metre high brick tower built in 1933 to hold 35 tuned bells.

Looking over the ocean at Wollongong's Flagstaff Point, a radial assembly of polished stone looks like a futuristic, angular Stonehenge, erected in 1987 by the Vietnam Veterans of Ilawarra to "perpetuate the memory of our fallen comrades", and "dedicated to those who sacrificed, suffered and served".

One of the most prolific photographers on Places of Pride is Henry Moulds, a volunteer guide at the Canberra war memorial who was on the road tracking monuments between Victoria's Gippsland region and the NSW South Coast when we spoke with him this week.

Monument Australia founder Kent Watson.

Monument Australia founder Kent Watson.

"War memorials vary hugely in type and style, around Australia," Moulds says. "A simple brass plaque on the base of a tree. A gate. A bench seat. Some from family or friends, others are grand community structures, and in the early days, especially, representing the patriotic fervour of the times.

"Some become the reason people know the town today. The size of some show you how big that town once was, compared with what it is today. I even know of memorials that stand by themselves on empty land, because the town has disappeared."

Moulds began working with Places of Pride soon after it started and says he's contributed about 4000 photographs of some 850 memorials. Like others sharing his hobby, Moulds also contributes to another online data base of photos and information, Monument Australia, run by a pair of history enthusiasts, Kent Watson, 70, from the Ballarat region in Victoria, and his sister Diane, who lives in Queensland.

War memorials vary hugely in type and style, around Australia; a simple brass plaque on the base of a tree. A gate. A bench seat. Some from family or friends, others are grand community structures, and in the early days, especially, representing the patriotic fervour of the times.

Henry Moulds, a volunteer guide at the Canberra war memorial

Kent Watson says he and his sister spent about $30,000 since 2010 on the monumentaustralia.org.au website, which is managed by a Ballarat IT firm.

"I'd done a masters in history and was going to write a book on monuments but thought no-one would read it," Watson says. "We decided on a website instead. We thought there couldn't be too many left when we got to 10,000!, but we're up to 33,600!"

Watson says military memorials are only a subset of Monument Australia's coverage, but many of their supporters have also begun to contribute to Places of Pride since it began last year.

Another significant contributor to the Canberra project is Tasmanian Arthur Garland, who handed over photographs of more than 1300 memorials.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Wollongong, 1987. Picture: John McCrory.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Wollongong, 1987. Picture: John McCrory.

Like Henry Moulds, the 59-year-old Garland is a dual contributor, having run into Brendan Nelson, who had treated him decades before as a GP, at a memorial ceremony last year.

Garland's photographs of a stained glass triptych installed in St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Bathurst, dedicated in 1954 "in gratitude to all who served . . . and in solemn memory of those who fell", are a good example of the images he seeks out. As a lover of history, Garland is concerned about the loss of monuments, as people forget the importance of things, and buildings are pulled down in the name of progress.

He tells of one instance where a church was sold, and the honour board was found in a garbage skip. It's since been restored and is one of a collection in the Launceston RSL featured on Places of Pride.

Moulds says Garland's photographic efforts are an inspiration, and he envies his record.

"My Tasmanian collection is woefully light on," Moulds says. "Hopefully, spreading the word for Places of Pride will encourage others to seek out more of these memorials, and add them to the national database."

And just what is Garland's record?

"As far as I know, there are only three war memorials in Tasmania that I haven't photographed," Garland says.

"One's at Upper Barrington, near Devonport, and one's near Burnie and the other is on Cape Barren Island."

That's in Bass Strait, and Garland says it will need military precision to get it because the time that the weekly ferry stops is set by the high tide, and then he has only half an hour to get to the memorial, get the picture and get back again before the ferry leaves.

"I know where it is," he says. "It's on the bucket list."