Centenary Watch: Background (updated to end January 2014)

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The centenary of World War I is being recognised in more than fifty countries, from France to New Zealand, Australia to the United States and Canada. The nature of the commemoration is likely to vary considerably from country to country, as is the attention being paid to it by governments and people. Anzac Canberra 1926

Anzac Day ceremony, Canberra, 1926 (source: National Archives of Australia A3560, 1698; photo: WJ Mildenhall)

Honest History has done some research (illustrated) on the commemorative program in the United Kingdom, which is considerable but costing less in absolute and per capita terms than what is planned for Australia. As we research other activities overseas we will provide information about them.

We will also keep track of media comment on centenary activities. These items can be accessed through  ‘Click here for all related items’ at the foot of this post. Honest History’s first impression is that, compared with other countries, Australia is doing commemoration on a lavish scale, with our efforts building on the earlier work of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) to mark the successive anniversaries (75th, 90th, and so on) of the Gallipoli landing.

Former Prime Ministers Fraser and Hawke jointly chaired a commission to work out how best to commemorate Anzac and this work expanded to take in the commemoration of the Century of Service of our armed forces. Today, the Australian Government’s efforts are led by the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board (ACAB), chaired by former Chief of the Defence Force, retired Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston.

As has been the case with many activities of government in Australia, our federal system tends to lead to activity which looks suspiciously like duplication; there are commemorative operations under way in at least New South Wales (chaired by another former CDF, retired General Peter Cosgrove), Queensland and Victoria.

There is plenty of money around also, with the estimated Australian Government budget amounting so far to more than $140 million. (The Coalition Government has announced additional expenditure on this program, known as the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program or ACLGP.) Each Federal electorate – there are 150 of them – is to receive up to $125 000 (following the increases) to fund local commemorative activities, with community proposals to be considered by committees chosen by local MPs and including representatives of ex-service organisations, educational institutions, museums and local government.

Decisions will be made by the Minister on advice from DVA. According to the ACAB website, eligible projects include:

  • public commemorative events, including the commemoration of important military anniversaries, enlistments and other First World War events that have had a significant impact on the local community;
  • new First World War memorials or honour boards;
  • the restoration of existing First World War memorials or honour boards;
  • the preservation, interpretation and display of First World War wartime and military memorabilia and artefacts; and
  • relevant school projects, such as research with a focus on military involvement and social impacts, and the products of research, e.g. written material, documentaries etc.

RSL

Viscount Dunrossil’s [then Governor-General] first public function, 1960 [opening RSL national offices]. The national secretary of the RSL, Mr K Newman, being presented to Viscount Dunrossil, after the ceremony. At left is the Prime Minister, Mr R Menzies, and centre is the national President of the RSL, Sir George Holland (source: National Archives of Australia 11223205, A1200; photo: W Pedersen) 

Early allocations (as at 28 January 2014) are:

  • Caboolture Morayfield and District RSL, Longman electorate, Qld: $20 000 to help relocate the Caboolture War Memorial and upgrade the First World War component of the memorial – as announced by the local member;
  • Shire of Yarriambiack, Warracknabeal, Mallee electorate, Vic.: $3560 to assist with publishing a register using First World War Honour Board, Honour rolls and War Memorials, for servicemen and one servicewoman from the Warracknabeal district who served during the First World War;
  • Skipton Friends of the RSL, Bradvale, Wannon electorate, Vic.: $600 to assist with printing the First World War component of the book Skipton’s Servicemen and Women, a publication which chronicles local servicemen and women who served in conflicts from the First World War to the Gulf;
  • Ararat Legacy Club, Wannon: $6000 to help restore the Sir Cyril White Memorial at the Buangor Cemetery [White is more usually known by his second name as Brudenell White];
  • Woolsthorpe Progress Association, Wannon: $2713 to help to upgrade the Woolsthorpe First World War Memorial;
  • Somerly Primary School, Clarkson, Moore electorate, WA: $7350 to help construct an Anzac Garden of Remembrance at Somerly Primary School.

DVA proper continues to be active in other areas of commemoration, particularly targeting schools, and this will presumably be stepped up during the centenary. Informal advice to Honest History from DVA is that schools’ demand for DVA material is increasing. Honest History met with DVA senior staff in October 2013 to explore opportunities for complementary activity.

The Australian War Memorial (AWM) is also putting a big effort into World War I commemoration, particularly by restoring the Great War galleries at a cost of $32 million ($27 million coming from the above $140 million and the rest from the AWM’s reserves). Honest History is in contact with the AWM regarding its commemorative efforts.

Other national cultural institutions in Canberra will be developing exhibitions to mark the centenary, as will state institutions such as the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. Honest History will put links in place to each of these programs as we research them.

The Anzac Centenary Public Fund has been launched. The chair is Mr Lindsay Fox. According to the joint media release from the Prime Minister and Minister Ronaldson on 12 December 2013:

It will be a time to remember those who left our shores to serve their young nation abroad – those whose bravery on the beaches of Gallipoli created the Anzac legend and those who fought on the Western Front and now rest beneath its fields. It will be a time to commemorate those Australians who have fought in all conflicts since.

Finally, there are a growing number of Anzac- and Gallipoli-badged commercial cum fundraising enterprises which will no doubt appeal a segment of the market which snaps up war-themed souvenirs from the Australian War Memorial shop. There is the Anzac Run, Camp Gallipoli with authentic replica swag and a number of Gallipoli Cruises, such as this one. Jack Waterford comments.

A number of commentators have written about the impending commemoration period: for example, Ray Cassin in Eureka Street, James Brown in Anzac’s Long Shadow and the reviewers of Brown’s book. In summary, Honest History will try to keep track of at least some of these events at home and abroad with three questions in the back of our minds:

  • What would the men and women of 1915 have thought of these activities, which are likely to range from the memorable to the bizarre?
  • Is there a point where excessive commemoration devalues the people and events being commemorated? (There are 250 military anniversaries of events from 1898 to 2008 listed in the Fraser-Hawke report and the list is described as incomplete. Will someone, somewhere be commemorating every single one of these dates? DVA advice is that these potential commemorations are seen as separate from the ACLGP.)
  • Does relentless and ubiquitous commemoration of war (no-one is using the word ‘glorification’) accustom us to war as a national pastime and obsession?
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