In Remembrance

Before I moved to Melbourne, I was working for a well-known mining company, and one of the things that really annoyed me was the lack of the pointed mark of respect that we give to those fallen soldiers of our Nation, during one minute of silence each year.  Of course I did my own personal minute of silence and bought my poppy each year, but I don’t think it forgives this major player for it’s neglect of this important occasion which means so much to so many.  So it felt good to be in Melbourne for Remembrance Day this year.

The brave but unfortunate Australian soldiers who gave their lives in the battles of World War I (about 20,000 out of 90,000), were buried in graves near their battlefields, far from home.  And being a time when travel abroad was not commonplace, Victorians rightfully wanted a place they could grieve for their loved ones.  The fathers, sons, brothers and uncles, the mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts, that never returned.  And to mark the courage of those that stayed behind.

This is how the Shrine of Remembrance, despite controversy over it’s design (like any good public construction), was born.

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The forecourt of the Shrine plays host to the eternal flame.  Inspired by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Belgium, the flame, despite its purpose, has actually been extinguished on a number of occasions, once when someone doused it with beer and another with a fire extinguisher.  It is a crime to douse the flame.
In the sanctuary floor is the Stone of Remembrance inscribed with the words “Greater love hath no man”.  Designed so that a natural ray of sunlight would fall on the word “love” on the stone at 11am, this feature worked perfectly until Melbourne adopted daylight savings in 1971/72, which now meant that the light hit the stone at midday.  To rectify the problem, two mirrors – one inclined and one horizontal – were installed to bend the beam of sunlight to achieve the desired light at the right time.  These mirrors are set in their respective positions before the service each year.
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2014 marks the 80th anniversary of the Shrine of Remembrance and the 100th anniversary of World War I and to mark the occasion a $45 million project to construct Galleries of Remembrance commenced in 2013.  And it was then they discovered something curious.  Two blocks of concrete on the foundation columns underneath the Shrine were tagged.  One with a date and the other with a picture of a face inscribed with the name ‘Lewis’.  Most likely to have been left by builders of the Shrine, the identity of the ‘artists’ was never discovered.   The original graffiti can still be seen in the WWII Gallery of the Shrine.  The Galleries of Remembrance will play host to permanent and temporary exhibitions illustrating the experiences of Australians at war and in peacekeeping operations, from Pre-Federation to the present day.

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Masses of people, young and old, from all walks of life and all nationalities come to observe the nearly two hour ceremony.  Attended by the Premier and Governor of Victoria, wreaths were placed and respects paid to those who laid their lives on the line for the freedom of this country.  A flypast by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) marked the beginning and conclusion of the one minute silence (usually observed country-wide) along with the reading of traditional poems “In Flanders Fields” and “For the Fallen”.  The finale is an invitation to attendees to visit the sanctuary to view the Ray of Light.

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And the significance of the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month?  Although the armistice that ended World War I was signed at 5am on November 11, 1918, the formal agreement did not take effect until six hours later.  The fighting officially stopped along the Western Front at 11am.

“They shall grow not old

as we that are left grow old;

Age shall not weary them,

nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun

and in the morning,

We will remember them.

Lest we forget.”

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