Australia’s War Dead

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, whose head office is in England, was established by Royal Charter of 21 May 1917. Its duties are to mark and maintain the graves of the members of the forces of the Commonwealth who died in the two world wars, to build and maintain memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown, and to keep records and registers. The Commission’s work is founded upon principles which have remained unaltered: that each of the dead should be commemorated individually by name either on the headstone on the grave or by an inscription on a memorial; that the headstones should be uniform; and that there should be no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed.

menin gate at midnight
Copy warning
(Above) Will Longstaff’s famous painting, Menin Gate at Midnight (1927). Oil on canvas 140.5x271.8cm (AWM 9807)

Climate permitting, the headstones stand in narrow borders, where floribunda roses and small perennials grow in a setting of lawn, trees and shrubs. Two monuments are common to the cemeteries: the Cross of Sacrifice, set usually upon an octagonal base and bearing a bronze sword upon its shaft; and, in the larger cemeteries, the Stone of Remembrance, upon which is carved:

THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVERMORE

The majority of those who died are buried in cemeteries throughout the world in 23,000 sites in 146 countries. Australian war dead of the First and Second World Wars total 102,256. Of these, 11,094 are buried in Australia. They are buried or commemorated in 586 different cemeteries and churchyards and 11 crematoria. There are over 70 War Cemeteries and plots in Australia.

The Office of Australian War Graves

In Australia, the Office of Australian War Graves acts as an agent on behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Office of Australian War Graves maintains 21,325 graves and 4,101 commemorations on Memorials to the Missing of men and women who gave their lives while serving in the forces of the Commonwealth countries in the two World Wars. These are located in over 900 war and civil cemeteries in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Honiara (Solomon Islands) and Norfolk Island.

The Office of Australian War Graves also looks after Australia’s interest in the commemoration of the war dead of Australia’s Armed Forces who gave their lives in other campaigns such as Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam. Equal commemoration is provided for those Australian veterans whose post-war deaths have been accepted as being due to their war service. These number in excess of 192,500 up to the present time.

The Gallipoli Campaign

Under the Armistice with Turkey the British Army re-entered the Peninsula at the end of 1918 and cleared the battlefields of the bodies still unburied. In the nine months of this bitterly fought campaign more than 36,000 Commonwealth servicemen died. The 31 war cemeteries on the Peninsula contain 22,000 graves but it was possible to identify only 9,000 of these. The 13,000 who rest in unidentified graves in the cemeteries, together with the 14,000 whose remains were never found, are commemorated individually by name on the Helles Memorial (British, Australian and Indian), the Lone Pine Memorial (Australian and New Zealand) and the Twelve Tree Copse, Hill 60 and Chunuk Bair Memorials (New Zealand).

World Wars 1 and 2

Of the cemeteries containing WW1 burials, the following contain large numbers of Australian war dead:

Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres, France
Pozieres British Cemetery, France
Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium
Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium
Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, France

958
690
1,128
1,353
772

Of theWW2 cemeteries, the following contain large numbers of Australian war dead:

Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery, Papua New Guinea
Labuan War Cemetery, North Borneo
Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, Thailand
El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt

3,147
1,167
1,115
1,362
1,234

There are also numerous Memorials to the Missing, listing the names of those veterans whose remains were not recovered or could not be identified. Notably among these are:

Villers-Bretonneux Memorial to the Missing, France
Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ieper, Belgium
Port Moresby (Bomana) Memorial to the Missing, PNG
Singapore Memorial to the Missing, Kranji War Cemetery
Rabaul Memorial to the Missing, Papua New Guinea
Labuan Memorial to the Missing, North Borneo

10,982
6,209
744
1,645
1,225
2,258

villers bretonneaux
(Above) War Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing, Villers-Bretonneux, France.

Subsequent Conflicts

Those who died in subsequent conflicts in which Australia was involved are mainly buried overseas. The majority of those who died in the Korean War are buried or commemorated in the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Pusan, Korea and 10 are buried in the British Commonwealth Forces Cemetery at Yokohama, Japan. Those who perished as a result of the Malaysian Emergency and Confrontation are, with the exception of 8, buried or commemorated in military cemeteries or crematoria in Malaysia. Of the 520 war dead of the Vietnam War, nearly all are buried or commemorated in cemeteries, crematoria and Gardens of Remembrance in Australia. Those who died early in the conflict are buried in Malaysia and Singapore. The Vietnam War was the only conflict where our war dead were repatriated.

Information provided by the Office of Australian War Graves.

For more information:
Office of Australian War Graves


[Traditions, Facts and Folklore front page]

ANZAC: The origin of the acronym ‘ANZAC’
The Dawn Service
ANZAC Day Commemoration
Outline Commemoration Service for ANZAC Day
The Australian National Flag
Australia’s War Dead
Australian War Memorials
Bugle Calls
The Catafalque Party
Colours Tell the Story
Medals
The Poppy is for Sacrifice
The Rising Sun Badge
Rosemary is for Remembrance
The Military Salute
The Slouch Hat and Emu Plumes
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