Dictionary of Sydney

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War Memorials to World War II and later conflicts

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War Memorials to World War II and later conflicts

The outbreak of World War II showed the Great War had not been ‘the war to end all wars’. In its aftermath local committees worked conscientiously to honour the next generation of warriors, but there were fewer dead to honour – 30,000 were lost in World War II compared to more than 60,000 in 1914-18. Their names could usually be accommodated on the memorials raised to their fathers by means of supplementary plaques and inscriptions. Many of Sydney's extant memorials to World War I, most notably the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park and the Cenotaph in Martin Place, were simply adapted to include memorials to World War II and later wars in which Australians served. Sometimes the names were omitted but a general inscription that honoured those who fell, or served, in 1939-45 indicated the memorial's wider significance.

However, this time around war came to the Pacific and to Darwin and Sydney, while thousands of Australians were held as prisoners of war by Japanese forces in Asia. While some memorials were adapted to include those lost in the new conflict, different forms of memorials were required.

New forms of memorialisation

By the end of World War II the tide of public sentiment had turned against commemorative obelisks, honour rolls and trophies in preference to more utilitarian memorials such as parks, swimming pools, libraries, community centres and the like which provided both a dignified memorial and a facility from which all citizens could benefit. The Commonwealth Government encouraged this by allowing tax deductions for any gifts to a project that could legitimately be described as a war memorial. Many suburbs and towns benefitted from these arrangements, and schools and churches were not slow to realise that additional facilities for their members could be funded in this way. [1]

The Garden Club of Australia conceived one of the more innovative memorials, and suggested a Remembrance Driveway, running from Sydney to Canberra, be created. The Garden Club of Australia imagined groves of native trees, memorial plantings and rest areas would line the highways and provide a living memorial to those who served in World War II and subsequent conflicts. The New South Wales and Commonwealth governments, veterans' associations and local garden clubs embraced the suggestion with enthusiasm. The Driveway was launched in 1954 when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip planted two plane trees in Macquarie Place, Sydney. The road from Sydney to Canberra is now lined with memorial plantings. [2]

There are several fountains that commemorate World War II. The El Alamein Memorial Fountain in Fitzroy Gardens, Kings Cross, commemorates Australians who fought in the Battle of El Alamein in Egypt in 1942. Holroyd Council unveiled a memorial and fountain in Merrylands on 15 August 2005, the 60th anniversary of Victory in the Pacific Day, to commemorate 44 local service personnel who died during World War II. [3]

Memorials to conflict in Sydney

The war came to Sydney on the night of 31 May 1942 when Japanese submarines entered Sydney Harbour and attacked and sank HMAS Kuttabul, a Sydney ferry that had been converted to a Royal Australian Navy depot ship. The HMAS Kuttabul Memorial at Garden Island memorialises the 21 Australian naval personnel who died on the vessel. Unusually, the Japanese sailors who died in their submarines are also remembered by plaques at Garden Island, attached to a relic of the raid, a conning tower. [4]

The Air Accident Memorial at Petersham Public School honours the crew of a RAF aircraft, which accidentally exploded over Petersham in 1945, the pilot’s body falling into the school grounds. [5]

Memorials to World War II in the Pacific and POWs

Those who fought and died on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea (1942-43), and the Papuans who supported them and the nurses and others who cared for them, are remembered by a memorial walkway in Rhodes Park along the Parramatta River. [6] The Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway, adjacent to Concord Repatriation Hospital, has plaques honouring ‘the compassionate care provided by the Medical Corps and Nursing Services to the casualties of all areas of conflict.’ [7] There is also a Kokoda Track Rose Garden in Wahroonga and Kokoda Park in St Marys. [8]

Prisoners of war are remembered in several memorials. Former prisoners of the Japanese made the pulpit of the war memorial chapel at the Army's School of Military Engineering at Casula from stone from Changi in Singapore and wood from sleepers on the Burma-Thailand railway. [9] Memorials in Burwood, Kirribilli and Turramurra honour those who died as POWs at Sandakan in North Borneo and on the infamous Sandakan death march in 1945. [10]

Memorials to women in World War II

The contribution of women in World War II was recognised more often than it had been in 1914-18. Memorials often referred to ‘men and women’ and women are more frequently named on memorials. Concord Repatriation Hospital has a Centaur Memorial Window and Roll of Honour to all those who died when the hospital ship Centaur was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1943. It includes the names of the Matron and 10 nursing sisters. [11] The Chatswood South/Artarmon Uniting Church has plaques commemorating 200 women who served in Voluntary Aid Detachments in the Middle East during World War II. [12] The Australian Army Nurses Memorial in the Rocks commemorates the service of Australian Army nurses in all wars. [13] In 1990 a Service Women’s Memorial, featuring a bronze statue and bronze relief figures of service women, was erected in the Jessie Street Gardens near Circular Quay ‘in commemoration of the service of the women of New South Wales who enlisted in Australia’s defence forces during World War II 1939-1945’. [14]

World War II memorials at Callan Park

As well as Douglas Grant's scale model Harbour Bridge Memorial to World War I servicemen, the former Callan Park Mental Hospital has another, somewhat bizarre, memorial, apparently contributed to by patients. It is undated but obviously post-1945 and consists of a professionally constructed freestanding wall with a drinking fountain (now decommissioned) and features two plaques, one of which is painted amateurishly with the name (misspelled) of one man who died in World War I and two men who died in World War II. The word ‘Memoriam’ is also misspelled. [15] The history of this strange edifice seems not to be recorded.

Wars and conflicts since 1945

The New South Wales Garden of Remembrance at Rookwood Cemetery is a general memorial for all who died as a result of service in the Australian armed forces and whose ‘remains rest in places where proper commemoration cannot be given or were cremated and the ashes scattered’. It presently displays memorial plaques for about 75,000 service men and women. [16]

Ken Inglis, Australia's great historian of war memorials, says ‘the most elaborate essay in commemorating the peacetime dead’ is the Field of Remembrance concept, which emulates a ritual performed annually outside London's Westminster Abbey. [17] Citizens are invited to plant small crosses on the lawn in memory of those who died in war, and many attach a name to their cross, ‘making the field a collectivity of personal commemorative acts.’ [18] The first Australian Field of Remembrance was laid out for Anzac Day 1952 in the grounds of St Andrew’s Cathedral, on the initiative of the War Widows’ Guild. [19]

Since the end of World War II Australian forces have been engaged in smaller wars and local conflicts such as in Korea, Malaya and Vietnam. The Australians who died in these engagements numbered in the hundreds rather than the tens of thousands, and their names could usually be added to existing memorials without difficulty. Other memorials simply noted that they now honoured those who served, or died, in these wars ‘and in other conflicts’ or similar wording.

A small number of specific memorials to these post-1945 conflicts were erected. Honour Avenue in Fairfield Park, originally created to honour those who served in World War II, now contains memorials to local people who have served in all twentieth century wars. [20] The Bardia Barracks at Ingleburn has a memorial to all those who were conscripted for military service in the 1950s-1970s and served in the various wars and conflicts of those times. [21] Korean War veterans are specifically honoured in the Korean War Memorial at the northern end of Moore Park, jointly funded by the state and Korean governments, veterans’ groups and the Korean community of Sydney. [22]

The Royal Australian Regiment Memorial in Wynyard Street, Sydney, commemorates members of the regiment who served in Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Malaysia and Vietnam between 1950 and 1972. Michael Hedger has said it was ‘commissioned by the City as an aesthetic road block.’ [23]

Sydney memorials to the Vietnam War

There are few specific memorials to the Vietnam War (1962-73). This is partly due to a 1966 decision by the Commonwealth Government to reverse its long-standing policy against repatriating the bodies of those killed, thus allowing families to bury their dead locally and giving the bereaved an easily accessible and more personal place to grieve and remember their family member. This meant there was less need for general memorials that could serve as surrogate gravesites. [24]

The Royal Australian Engineers honour members who died in Vietnam in a memorial at the Moorebank military base. In Cabramatta, which has a large population of Vietnamese war refugees and migrants, a memorial comprising a statue each of an Australian and a Vietnamese soldier commemorates the comradeship between them. [25]


Sydney memorials to bearers of the Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross is the highest military honour in the Commonwealth and is awarded for valour in the face of the enemy. Australians awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) in all wars are honoured in several places including the Victoria Cross Memorial in Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building and the Victoria Cross Recipients’ Wall at North Bondi War Memorial. Special plaques attached to general memorials honour some individual recipients of the VC.

What of the Future?

Memorials to World War II and later conflicts are generally in better condition than those of earlier wars because they are newer and community memories of the wars they commemorate are fresher. However, their existence and relevance are sometimes still under threat.

The Remembrance Driveway between Sydney and Canberra, the national avenue of honour that was launched in Sydney by the Queen in 1954, was in trouble within thirty years. Some trees were dying and many of the local government areas through which it passed were reluctant to assume responsibility for its upkeep. It was rescued by the Commonwealth Department of Veterans’ Affairs, in partnership with the NSW and ACT governments, and was enriched by the creation of rest areas along the way, each dedicated to a recipient of the Victoria Cross. [26]

Plans for new buildings near memorials have sometimes posed a threat, perhaps none more insistently than those at Sydney Technical College at Ultimo where the memorial to staff and students, originally unveiled in 1954, was demolished and rebuilt twice and moved five times in the ensuing thirty years or so because it was consistently in the way of new buildings or changes to pedestrian routes on the campus. [27]

After World War II Returned Servicemen’s Clubs sprang up everywhere combining the memorial function with the provision of congenial places for meeting and entertainment but with the passage of time and loss of original members some have closed or merged or been reinvented as general community clubs.

As the years pass these memorials, like those to earlier conflicts, will increasingly need refurbishment and conservation if they are to continue to ensure that the sacrifices of Australians in war will be remembered and honoured.

The New South Wales Government has established a Community War Memorials Fund [28] to help protect and restore war memorials across the state, and the Public Works Department has published Caring for our War Memorials, a guide for trades people and those responsible for the upkeep of memorials. [29]


Michael Hedger. Public Sculpture in Australia. Roseville East: Craftsman House, 1995.

KS Inglis. Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008. First published 1998.

Tom Spencer. Soldier-Teacher War Memorials, Sydney: NSW Department of Education and Training, 2001.

'Conflict', Monument Australia, http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict

New South Wales Government. Register of War Memorials in New South Wales, www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/


[1] KS Inglis, Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, 3rd ed (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008), 334-340

[2] Driveway Map, Remembrance Driveway, http://www.remembrancedriveway.org.au/driveway-map/, viewed 20 January 2015

[3] El Alamein Memorial Fountain, State Heritage Register, NSW Environment and Heritage, http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5061189, viewed 21 January 2015; 15; Victory in the Pacific War Memorial and Fountain, Register of War Memorials in NSW, https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/victory-pacific-memorial-wall-and-fountain, viewed 21 January 2015

[4] KS Inglis, Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, 3rd ed (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008), 517

[5] Petersham Public School Air Accident Memorial, Register of War Memorials in NSW, https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/petersham-public-school-air-accident-memorial, viewed 21 January 2015

[6] Kokoda Track Rose Garden, Register of War Memorials in NSW, https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/kokoda-track-memorial-walkway, viewed 21 January 2015

[7] Kokoda Track Rose Garden, Register of War Memorials in NSW, https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/kokoda-track-rose-garden, viewed 21 January 2015

[8] Kokoda Track Memorial [Wahroonga], Register of War Memorials in NSW, https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/kokoda-track-memorial, viewed 21 January 2015; Kokoda Park [St Marys], Register of War Memorials in NSW, https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/kokoda-park, viewed 21 January 2015

[9] KS Inglis, Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, 3rd ed (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008), 350

[10] KS Inglis, Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, 3rd ed (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008), 352

[11] Centaur Memorial Window Concord Repatriation General Hospital, Register of War Memorials in NSW, https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/centaur-memorial-window-concord-repatriation-general-hospital, viewed 21 January 2015

[12] Chatswood South-Artarmon Uniting Church VAD Memorials, Register of War Memorials in NSW, https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/chatswood-south-artarmon-uniting-church-vad-memorials, viewed 21 January 2015

[13] Australian Army Nurses Memorial, Register of War Memorials in NSW, http://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/australian-army-nurses-memorial, viewed 21 January 2015

[14] New South Wales Service Women's Memorial, Register of War Memorials in NSW, https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/new-south-wales-service-womens-memorial

[15] Callan Park (Rozelle Hospital) War Memorial, War Memorials Register of NSW, https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/callan-park-rozelle-hospital-war-memorial

[16] New South Wales Garden of Remembrance – Rookwood, Register of War Memorials in New South Wales, http://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/new-south-wales-garden-remembrance-rookwood, viewed 26 November 2014

[17] KS Inglis, Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, 3rd ed (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008), 409

[18] KS Inglis, Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, 3rd ed (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008), 410

[19] KS Inglis, Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, 3rd ed (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008), 409-410

[20] Honour Avenue Fairfield, Register of War Memorials in New South Wales, http://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/honour-avenue-fairfield, viewed 20 January 2015

[21] National Service Memorial – Bardia Barracks Ingleburn Precinct, Register of War Memorials in New South Wales, http://warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/national-service-memorial-bardia-barracks-ingleburn-military-precinct, viewed 20 January 2015

[22] Korean War Memorial, Centennial Parklands, http://www.centennialparklands.com.au/about/history_and_heritage/memorials_and_gates/korean_war_memorial, viewed 20 January 2015

[23] Michael Hedger, Public Sculpture in Australia (Roseville East: Craftsman House, 1995), 44

[24] KS Inglis, Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, 3rd ed (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008), 383

[25] KS Inglis, Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, 3rd ed (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008), 387

[26] KS Inglis, Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, 3rd ed (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008), 511-512

[27] Tom Spencer, Soldier-Teacher War Memorials, Sydney, NSW Department of Education & Training, 2001, pp 47-50

[28] Community War Memorials Fund, NSW Department of Veterans' Affairs, http://veterans.nsw.gov.au/community-war-memorials-fund/, viewed 20 January 2014

[29] Minister's Stonework Programme, NSW Public Works, http://publicworks.nsw.gov.au/architecture-heritage/ministers-stonework, viewed 20 January 2014