Flat White

EXCLUSIVE: The bureaucrats desecrating our diggers’ graves

11 November 2018

4:25 PM

11 November 2018

4:25 PM

Today, we mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the signing of the armistice which brought an end to the First World War. It is a time for remembrance, but it seems not all our fallen heroes are being treated with the same amount of respect.

Sister Mary Nicolay trained under Florence Nightingale, and served as a nurse with the Western Australian forces in the Boer War from 1899 to 1901.

Private Charles Duff was born and raised in Welshpool. He served with the 11th Australian Infantry Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, and was twenty-one years old when he was killed in action in France, on April 7, 1917.

Private A. M. Griffiths served with the Australian Women’s Army Service in the Second World War. She passed away at the age of 44, leaving her husband, Warrant Officer 1st Class I. R Griffiths, to raise their three children, Bessy, Leslie, and June.

Corporal Des Ellis served in Korea, and was home on leave recovering from his wounds when he was killed in a tragic motoring accident.

Other than their service, what each of these people has in common is burial in Perth’s Karrakatta Cemetery; that, and fact that their headstones are currently under threat of removal as part of the so-called ‘renewal’ processes being undertaken by the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, with the tacit approval of the Western Australian state government. And unfortunately, they are far from alone.

Sergeant Billy Date, served with the 11th Battalion at Gallipoli. A small white plaque now stands beside his headstone, like an insulting white feather. It reads “This grave is in a proposed Cemetery Renewal area. Please contact Client Services.” The subtext is clear. Billy and his mates will soon be removed, and all but forgotten.

Yes, names will be etched on brass plaques in some secluded corner of the cemetery, but actual burial plots, where family and grateful strangers alike can come to pay their respects, will be lost, and in time other graves will be dug over those of men and women who fought for the soil in which they lie.

Just last week, WA’s Governor and former defence minister, Kim Beazley, spoke of what he described as the intangible social compact that exists between Australian citizens and the service and veterans community. He went on to extend that, implicitly, to include their families, but I think the current situation at Karrakatta requires that we are even more explicit than that. We owe these men and women our continued liberty, and we owe their families not only a debt of gratitude for their service, but the reassurance that we will continue to show them our very deepest respect in years to come.

To say that, just 100 years after the guns fell silent on the Western Front, we can no longer visit the grave of, for example, Warrant Officer 1st Class Alexander Rankin of the Australian Army Medical Corp, and pay our respects where his body lies, is to rubbish any such reassurance.

I have walked through Karrakatta in recent weeks, and the names and the stories are sadly too many to more than simply list. More than 100 souls, whose memorials are being threatened on the very day that we commemorate the silencing of the guns 100 years ago, with 100 bugle calls across our city.

One of them, Gunner J. A. Evans, served with the 8th Field Artillery Brigade. The simple, pristine brass plaque on his headstone reads “His duty fearlessly and nobly done. Ever remembered.” Sadly, today, one of these statements seems truer than the other by a magnitude too tragic for us to even begin to quantify.

The 100 Memorials at Risk in Karrakatta Cemetery

  1. Lance Corporal W. Anderson, 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital
  2. Private H. M. Armstrong, 51 Battalion
  3. Sergeant S. Atkinson, Royal Australian Engineers
  4. Corporal G. Birchall, 11 Battalion
  5. Lieutenant Commander P. R. Birchall, Royal Australian Naval Reserve
  6. Private R. M. Bryson, 44 Battalion
  7. Sapper R. R. G. Butcher MM, 2 Field Company Engineers
  8. Corporal J. Cale, Corps of Signals
  9. Petty Officer W. B. Clegg, Royal Australian Navy
  10. Warrant Officer D. E. Collingwood, 2 Depot Unit of Supply
  11. Private J. A. Collingwood, Australian Women’s Army Service
  12. Corporal J. J. Copley, Army Ordinance Corps
  13. Corporal K. H. Cormack, 2/11 Battalion
  14. Private H. M. S. Craig, 11 Battalion
  15. Private C. C. Cuthbert, 51 Battalion
  16. Private S. P. Dale, Veterinary & Remounts Service
  17. Sergeant W. H. Date, 11 Battalion
  18. Trooper J. F. Davies, 10 Light Horse
  19. Lance Corporal L. A. Denbigh DCM, 13 Field Ambulance
  20. Corporal W. Dennerley DCM MM, Labour Service
  21. Private H. V. Emery DCM, Labour Service
  22. Surgeon Commander H. H. Field-Martell, Royal Australian Naval Reserve
  23. Private E. S. Fishleigh, Army Medical Corps
  24. Trooper L. L. Freeth. 10 Light Horse
  25. Sapper C. C. Gibb, 3 Tunnelling Company
  26. Private A. G. Glaskin, 11 Battalion
  27. Private C. Golding, 5 Works Company
  28. Private D. E. K. Granberg, 2/16 Infantry Battalion
  29. Private A. M. Griffiths, Australian Women’s Army Service
  30. Private W. E. Hackett, 2/28 Infantry Battalion
  31. Lance Corporal H. Hall, HQ Guard Battalion
  32. Private W. H. Harman, 2/11 Infantry Battalion
  33. Private F. F. Hatton, 2 Machine Gun Battalion
  34. Corporal L. Henson, Army Ordnance Corp
  35. Private F. A. Higgins, 2/5 Commando Squadron
  36. Private E. J. Hill, 32 Battalion
  37. Sapper W. Hitch, Royal Australian Engineers
  38. Sergeant F. A. Hume, Corps of Signals
  39. Flight Sergeant D. C. Humphries, Royal Australian Air Force
  40. Private F. W. Jackson, 2/1 HQ Guard Battalion
  41. Private E. R. C. James, 51 Battalion
  42. Private S. C. Jeffrey, 44 Battalion
  43. Lance Corporal J. J. Jose, 11 Battalion
  44. Private W. J. Kemp, 2 Pioneer Battalion
  45. Private H. Kilpatrick, 10 Battalion
  46. Gunner R. H. Leach, 10 Field Artillery Battalion
  47. Private J. Leonard, 2/14 Infantry Battalion
  48. Sergeant T. D. Lester, 10 Battalion
  49. Private A. H. Levett, Intelligence Corps
  50. Sapper J. G. Little, 2 Tunnelling Company
  51. Sergeant G. T. Loane, 16 Battalion
  52. Sergeant W. A. MacDonald, Royal Australian Air Force
  53. Lance Corporal H. Makin, 2 Field Company Engineers
  54. Sergeant C. C. Massingham, Royal Australian Air Force
  55. Corporal G. MacDowall, 51 Battalion
  56. Trooper H. McMurray, 4 Light Horse Regiment
  57. Private G. R. McTaggart, 4 Machine Gun Company
  58. Private M. J. McTavish, Labour Service
  59. Sergeant W. Mead, 5 Field Ambulance
  60. Regimental Quarter Master Sergeant P. Miller, 11 Battalion
  61. Private W. T. Moody, 44 Battalion
  62. Private C. V. Neave, Labour Service
  63. Sergeant P. O’Brien, Army Personnel Depot
  64. Private T. Orr, 16 Infantry Battalion
  65. Gunner A. E. Page, Royal Australian Artillery
  66. Private E. J. A. Palmer, 16 Battalion
  67. Private W. Pennington, 13 Mixed Brigade
  68. Lance Corporal A. H. Plint, 11 Infantry Battalion
  69. Sergeant A. J. Plozza, 2/16 Infantry Battalion
  70. Sapper J. Pope, 3 Tunnelling Company
  71. Lance Corporal W. J. Prosser, Royal Australian Engineers
  72. Leading Aircraftsman J. Prosser, Royal Australian Air Force
  73. Warrant Officer 1 A. Rankin, Australian Army Medical Corp
  74. Private C. V. Reeve, 24 Battalion
  75. Private H. E. Ridley, 2 Special Unit
  76. Trooper T. Robinson, 1 Armoured Regiment
  77. Major A. E. Saggers, 2/4 Machine Gun Battalion
  78. Lieutenant Colonel G. D. Shaw MC, 28 Battalion
  79. Lieutenant J. Shorrock, 28 Battalion
  80. Lance Corporal F. A. Silbury, 5 Pioneer Battalion
  81. Private P. A. Smirk, 26 Works Company
  82. Sergeant J. G. Steel, Army Ordnance Corp
  83. Private C. W. Stone, 32 Battalion
  84. Private J. L. Storey, 51 Battalion
  85. Sergeant B. L. Strickland, 26 Infantry Battalion
  86. Sergeant K. A. Strudwick, Royal Australian Air Force
  87. Private W. W. Sutton, 2/11 IMF Battalion
  88. Aircraftswoman L. J. D. Sutton, Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force
  89. Private E. Taylor, 16 Battalion
  90. Private A. W. Taylor, 8 Field Ambulance
  91. Corporal L. Thomas, 2/11 Infantry Battalion
  92. Leading Aircraftsman S. R. Treadgold, Royal Australian Air Force
  93. Corporal P. W. Tucker, 11 Field Artillery Brigade
  94. Warrant Officer 2 H. E. Vine, Army Pay Corps
  95. Private G. Warren, 16 Battalion
  96. Private J. Weir, 51 Battalion
  97. Sergeant W. J. Wheatley, 2/5 Field Regiment
  98. Sergeant G. A. Wilson, Corps of Elec. & Mech. Engineers
  99. Driver F. A. Woodcock, 6 Motor Transport Company
  100. Stoker Petty Officer G. A. Woodrow, Royal Australian Navy

There are many more besides.

It is my hope, on behalf of their families, and on behalf of all the Australians who owe them a debt of gratitude, that each of these heroes continue to rest undisturbed, and that we as a nation and a community continue to commemorate their service and their sacrifice in a meaningful and enduring way.

‘Renewal’ should never be about burying our past along with our dead. If anything, it should be about renewing our commitment to the ANZAC spirit and leaving our dead to sleep in peace.

Aaron Stonehouse is a Liberal Democrat Member of the Western Australia parliament.

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