PROPOSAL OF COMMEMORATION OF AUSTRALIAN GRAVES IN BELGIUM
Prepared by:Peter James Pickering A.I.F living historian
Pilot project Bethleem Farm East & Bethleem Farm West
It is proposed that a small commemorative wooden cross be placed on each of the graves in both the Bethleem Farm East & Bethleem Farm West cemeteries. These crosses would be made in Australia and carry the wording AUSTRALIA REMEMBERS on them
In addition, each of the crosses will carry the name of a school child ensuring the young have some understanding of the sacrifice made by a previous generation of young Australians.
Once the crosses are complete they will be posted to Chris Barker (a U.K based living historian) who will take them to Belgium and place one on each of the graves. Chris will also photograph each grave and send me a CD with these photos to take back to the school.
About the Cemeteries
Bethleem Farm East Cemetery was made by Australian units when the farm was captured
by the 3rd Australian Division on 7 June 1917 in the Battle of Messines. The
majority of the burials are those of officers and men killed in action on 8 or
10 June, though the cemetery continued to be used until the following
September. There are 44 servicemen of the First World War buried or
commemorated in the cemetery. Eight of the burials are unidentified but a
special memorial commemorates one casualty know to be buried among them. The
cemetery was designed by G H Goldsmith.
Access to this cemetery can be difficult, especially in wet weather.
CASUALTY DETAILS: UK 1; Australia 43: Total Burials: 44
Bethleem Farm West Cemetery as above
CASUALTY DETAILS: UK 24; Australia 114; New Zealand 27: Total Burials: 1
In April of 2010, I met Chris Barker at Zonnebeke, Belgium for the Memorial Museum Passchendaele’s biennial Living History Weekend. The theme for this year’s weekend was ANZAC, and I was privileged to be included in the first ANZAC Dawn Service organised by locals at Buttes New British Cemetery (Polygon Wood). Over the course of the weekend several of us “Living Historians” decided we would like to form our own group dedicated to commemorating the sacrifice by members of all British Commonwealth nations of the Western Front. The name chosen for our group is “Sons of the British Empire” which reflects the feeling of the time, and encompasses both ourselves as Australians, as well as our equally passionate U.K colleagues.
John Aston, & Chris Barker at Buttes New British Cemetery ANZAC Day 2010
Since returning from the Western Front I have been in regular contact with Chris who attends most of the ceremonial events taking place in France & Belgium. Chris recently met the Australian Army’s Federation Guard in Belgium during the Re-internment of Private Alan James Mather in the Prowse Point Military Cemetery, Ploegsteert, Belgium, and after the official ceremony offered to take members of the guard to some of the less frequented cemeteries.
It was from this meeting between Chris and the Federation Guard that the idea of somehow recognising our fallen Aussie Diggers from the Great War in the more obscure cemeteries, which receive very few visitors, first took shape
The Royal British Legion (the U.K’s R.S.L) raises funds by selling commemorative items using the poppy as its emblem. One of the items in the product line is the small wooden cross (see letterhead). People can purchase these crosses for 50p each and take them to the cemetery where their relative is buried and place it on the grave as an act of remembrance.
When Chris explained to the R.B.L why he wanted a cross and where it was going, they gave him the cross free of charge with their regards. Only a saving of 50p, but a great gesture all the same.
At this time I contacted Andrea Gerrard, a local schoolteacher and passionate WW1 historian who was immediately enthusiastic about the project. Andrea’s husband Ron has access to a bandsaw, and has cut out, sanded, and drilled our crosses.
The first batch of crosses is now at Newtown Primary School where the Principal Danny Neale has always been a great supporter of WW1 commemorative events. The school has its own Honour Board in the main foyer which bears the names of the former students of the school who fell in the Great War. Children at the school will be writing their names on the crosses before we pack them up to send to the U.K.
Chris Barker has obtained 2 packs each (100 to a pack) of poppies and grommets to complete the crosses.
Once all the crosses are complete they will be sent to Chris who will take them to Bethleem Farm East & West cemeteries and place one cross on each grave.
All costs associated with this pilot project have currently been borne by those associated with it.
Chris Barker has posted the original cross and supplied the grommets & poppies + postage of same
Ron Gerrard has bought the sheets of plywood and cut, sanded, and drilled the crosses
Pete Pickering has order the self inking permanent stamp
Postage to Chris in the U.K has yet to be determined
The whole project is quite inexpensive and would come in at less than $200. We would like to receive some financial assistance to offset the expenses already incurred, and those that still need to be found to ensure the completion of this extremely worthwhile activity.
We would also like some media attention prior to the crosses being sent to the U.K, ideally involving the children, and the story of the cross pilot project to gather public support and raise awareness of the activity as a commemorative event. This would be particularly important for any subsequent expansion of this project.
As stated at the beginning of this document, this is a pilot project and something we would like to see continue to grow.
I have submitted a proposal to the Centenary of ANZAC Committee that one of these crosses should be placed on every Australian grave from the First World War. This would need to be a national programme run through schools with government support. We would need at most 60,000 crosses (Australia’s approximate WW1 death toll), but many men were not buried so the actual number would be considerably less. I don’t think this project is unrealistic if national resources could be utilised, and it has the added benefit of being a tangible connection between young Australians, and our ANZAC Diggers that we currently commemorate only on ANZAC Day, and to a lesser extent on Remembrance Day.
If you would like to make a donation towards the funding of the Pilot project Bethleem Farm East & Bethleem Farm West we would be most grateful no matter how small the amount