Principles of Official Commemoration

Equality and uniformity are the governing principles behind the official commemoration of Australia’s war and post-war dead.

These principles, together with the principle of commemoration in perpetuity, underpin the purpose and functions of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and the Office of Australian War Graves (OAWG) [1]. In practical terms the principles mean:

  • each of our war dead and post-war dead is commemorated individually and once only, by name, on either a grave headstone, or a plaque, or an inscription on a memorial
  • the headstones, plaques and memorials are maintained in perpetuity
  • the headstones, plaques, and memorial inscriptions are uniform
  • there is no distinction in style of commemoration made on the basis of military rank, civil rank or wealth of the veteran or his family.

The distinctive, orderly rows of matching headstones and plaques that characterise the CWGC cemeteries in 150 countries around the world are the principles of equality, uniformity made real and commemoration in perpetuity.

Every headstone or plaque is inscribed (where known) with the person's:

  • national emblem or Service Badge
  • name (initials and surname)
  • rank
  • unit
  • date of death
  • age (optional)
  • religious emblem (optional)
  • in most cases, a personal inscription chosen by relatives.

See:

Post-war commemorations

The principles of equality and uniformity are maintained with post-war commemorations. At the choice of the next-of-kin, these commemorations may be either at the site of the veteran's remains in cemeteries or crematoria throughout Australia or in an OAWG Garden of Remembrance. If a cemetery or crematorium's requirements preclude the use of an official commemoration, a memorial plaque in an OAWG Garden of Remembrance is the recommended option.

See: Post-war commemorations

 

Extract from Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, France

Extract from Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, France

CWGC headstones

CWGC headstones

HAC Cemetery, France

Heath Cemetery, France

CWGC headstones

CWGC headstones

 

Footnotes

  1. The British Government began marking individual graves of the British and Empire war dead in WW1 following the growing expectation, led by the Red Cross, that the war dead should be recognised individually, officially and permanently by the nation. The Australian Government also adopted this policy and in 1922 extended the entitlement of official commemoration to include those who subsequently died post war of war-related causes. All subsequent Australian governments have endorsed this policy.