Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library
The Great War was an episode of immense significance for the young Australian nation. The sacrifice in human terms was enormous; over sixty thousand young men died and another one hundred and fifty thousand were wounded. The terrible experience did much to convince Australians that they did not have quite as much to learn from the old world as perhaps they had supposed. The war and particularly the Gallipoli misadventure, also helped to shape the Australians' image of themselves as the independent, resourceful and hardy inheritors of the pioneer tradition.

Throughout Australia after World War I, there was a general desire to erect memorials to those who served. In Sydney, it was decided that the State memorial would be in Hyde Park, and that, in addition, a Cenotaph would be erected in Martin Place.

Martin Place was chosen as the site for the Cenotaph following representations by the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' League for the following reasons: It was the heart of the City; many servicemen had enlisted there; it had close associations with servicemen and war activities.

The monument was designed by Sir Bertram Mackennal and erected by Messrs Dorman Long and Coy. on land given by the City and under the supervision of Dr. J. J. C. Bradfield.

It is of Moruya granite, on a base 6.73 m long and 2.76 m wide. The bronze statues of a sailor and soldier, one third larger than life size, were modelled by Sir Bertram Mackennal and placed in position in 1929, two years after the granite base was dedicated.

An inscription on the Northern side reads "Lest We Forget" and on the Southern side "To Our Glorious Dead."

In a recent address titled Remembrance Day, and given by Bro. Lt. the Hon. Sir Asher Joel, KBE, AO, PGDM to the members of Lodge Army and Navy, Sir Asher pointed out that not one single line appeared in our great Metropolitan newspapers on Monday, 11 November, 1985, referring to Remembrance Day. Sir Asher went on to say: "Was it all worthwhile? or were the sacrifices of so little consequence that they no longer rate a single line. After all, more than eight million Australians were not even alive when World War 11 finished in 1945."

This being the case, we should step back in time to the day of the Dedication of the Cenotaph and reproduce the newspaper report appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday, August 9, 1927, the day following the Dedication.



A Symbol for Posterity

There were no dazzling embroideries about the ceremony with which the Cenotaph in Martin Place was dedicated yesterday to the memory of sailors, soldiers, and nurses killed during the war. A few gestures, simply, directly expressing sentiments which needed little rhetoric and explanation, struck from the hearts of the 10,000 who watched, old familiar throbbings of sorrow, and hope, and comradeship.

The Premier made the dedicatory speech, and the Governor laid the first wreath. Consuls of the Allies laid their own immense wreaths, and the huge stone was quickly hidden under a mountain of flowers.

In Martin Place yesterday for a few minutes when this unadorned ceremony ‑ quiet, calm ‑ had moved to its unspectacular climax, one could sense that emotion of patient, voiceless suffering, reawakened after nine years by a gesture of remembrance. One could sense it in the silence of the crowd, the silence of men and women assembled, not to see a curious thing, and not to be entertained, but, like a family, because they shared emotions and privileges and memories that might never be effaced.

An ordinary crowd ‑ the curious crowd of the lunch hour ‑ is a chattering core of gaiety. This crowd, formed of the same people, the same clerks, and typists, and shop girls, and business men, flooded Martin Place, yet left it so silent that the scream of a hydraulic hammer, working on a building a hundred yards away, burst like an explosion.

Man mercifully forgets more things ‑ a capacity which makes life endurable in a world of pain. But these people remembered yesterday, and for half an hour remembered so vividly that they relived the years of patient suffering. They came to Martin Place under the same indefatigable impulse, which swept them so easily together when the war threw shadows over all their days. They come for the comfort that many people, who share the same agony may give each other merely by their contact.

Yes, they remembered well enough, those people who waited for hours to hear the Premier deliver the speech of dedication, and to see Sir Dudley de Chair place the first wreath. For here were generals and sailors, and men distressingly mutilated, and nurses, and the Consuls of the allied nations, and here was the Cenotaph, huge and simple, and in its very form suggestive of calm, enduring rest.

The speeches were short, for what could any man say now to comfort the unhappy in that crowd or to teach those, for whom the Cenotaph is most significant, more than they know. Neither was it necessary to remind them. They will never forget; they will never sit without thoughts or sleep without dreams.

The flags trembled down to halfmast. His Excellency saluted the Cenotaph. And the silence was greater than ever ‑ breathlessly tense. Then the buglers played the Reveille and the flags rose again. It was a simple piece of drama, direct and most impressingly symbolical. A gesture of sorrow and the gesture of hope founded on sacrifice and death.

Governor's Address

At the conclusion of the National Anthem, The Governor, Sir Dudley de Chair, addressed the gathering.

"I am glad to be here today," he said, "to preside over this vast assemblage, and 1 deem it a great privilege to be associated with this memorial, that will for all times honour the memory of those who gave their lives in the defence of their country in the Great War. This memorial, I understand owes its inception to the Returned Soldiers' League, and it appears to me most appropriate that the Cenotaph should be erected in this centre of your city, as Martin Place stands out pre‑eminently as the spot associated with some of the most historic incidents in the life of this State during the war. To all of us here today this Cenotaph, when completed, will not stand as a symbol of the pride of victory, but as an embodiment and a lasting memorial of common effort and common sacrifice, through which, under the guidance of Divine Providence, liberty and right were preserved for mankind, 1 hope for ever."

After the hymn, "0 God, our Help in Ages past," had been sung, the Governor invited the Premier to dedicate the Cenotaph.

Dedication Speech

"Our Governments and our people have in many ways attempted to repay, in part at least, the debt we owe to those sons of Australia who gave their youth, their strength, their hope of useful manhood so that our native land could take its place with the free nations of the world," said Mr. Lang.

"Our task is different today. We are here to ackowledge that there are many to whom no human hand can give a timely lift, to whom no human voice can pass a cheery word. We have come to pay our tribute to our dead. This we can do by raising such monuments as will ensure that the memory of their heroic deeds and noble sacrifice will remain for ever with our people. One of these monuments can be built so easily, it is the monument of stone similar to that which we will dedicate today. The other form is just as permanent, just as enduring as this, but much more difficult to build. To build it is a task that will require all our energy, our patience, and ability; but if we can complete it we will have done the greatest thing that we could do. The monument of which 1 speak is the ordering of conditions so that the scourge of war will be eliminated from our civilisation, and never again will the flower of our country's manhood be called upon to make the sacrifice that those whose memory we are consecrating today have made. Nothing that the future historian may discover can embellish their noble deed; nothing that may be found can diminish the glory of their sacrifice.

"This ground on which we stand is hallowed ground," said Mr. Lang. "On this spot on which I stand how many of our boys stood making the greatest decision of their lives. They have made the supreme sacrifice as crusaders in the cause of peace. It is for us who live after them to use our utmost efforts in making of this world a peaceful brotherhood of man because they wished it so. There is a reverence and a spirituality attached to this spot that our people would preserve. To express that wish your Government has ordered that in future the frivols and the gala which have made Martin Place the brightest spot in our city shall not approach the immediate environs of this Cenotaph. The Cenotaph has been given into the keeping of the City of Sydney, and it will add to the lustre of the Lord Mayor's mantle to know that to his duties has been added that of guarding and preserving the people's monument to their dead. In the name of the Government and the people of New South Wales 1 dedicate this Cenotaph to the memory of our glorious dead."

As the Premier's words died away, two Victoria Cross winners, Messrs.

W. E. Brown (late of the 1 st Battalion) and G. J. Howell (late of the lst Battalion) hoisted the flags which covered the Cenotaph.

The First Wreath

The Governor then placed on the Cenotaph the first wreath, to which was attached a purple ribbon bearing the following inscription: "To our glorious dead as a tribute from the people of New South Wales."

The Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. C. W. C. Marr), representing the Federal Government, placed the second wreath on the monument.

The flags were lowered and buglers sounded the "Last Post."

Care of Site

The Lord Mayor (Alderman Mostyn), replying to the Governor's invitation, formally accepted the care of the site.

"I accept, on behalf of the citizens, this Cenotaph," said Alderman Mostyn. "I assure you that the greatest care will be taken of this monument by all future Lord Mayors, and 1 feel that when the citizens pass the Cenotaph silence will be observed to commemorate the great deeds done by our fellow‑citizens, and that those deeds will be an incentive to future generations."

Before "The Recessional" was sung the Consuls of the Allied countries America, Belgium, France, Italy, Japan, Roumania, and Servia ‑ each placed a wreath on the Cenotaph.

The proceedings were concluded with the National Anthem and "Australia Will be There."

Cicero once observed that "not to know what took place before you were born is to remain forever a child."

War has been a traumatic occurrence in Australia's youth; we would do well to remember its lessons.

The NSW Freemason, Vol. 18, No. 6 April 1986

The material for this article was supplied by RW Bro A J Dennis, PDGM, PPB of B, who amongst his services to the community has assisted the Custodians at the Cenotaph in Sydney since 1947.