13 November 2012

Remembrance Day in Ballarat: 1914-1918

During WWI, Australia lost so many young men that some country towns had difficulty recovering - emotionally of course but economically as well. This brand new nation was only 13 years old when war started, yet 60,000 lads died, 152,000 were wounded and 4,000 were taken prisoner.

Within a few years after the end of The Great War, there were very few towns throughout Australia that did not have their own war memorial. Many of them were simple stone figures of classless soldiers without rank, of sombre expression, resting on arms, reversed on a plinth.

Less frequently the memorialising function was allocated to a shady road; there each tree was given a plaque, dedicated to the name of a local lad who went off to war eg Ballarat’s Avenue of Honour (1917-19). The avenue consisted of 3,771 trees planted at regular intervals along 22km of the Ballarat-Burrumbeet Road.

Ballarat Arch of Victory, opening onto the Avenue of Honour

The planting of the Ballarat Avenue commenced in June 1917 on the suggestion of Mrs WD Thompson, a director of clothing firm E. Lucas & Co, Ballarat. Her hope was that an avenue of trees would be planted in honour of the men and women of the district who had enlisted for service.

The planting of one tree for each enlisted person began in June 1917 with funds of £2,600, raised by the 500 “Lucas Girls” employed in the factory. The planting was carried out in phases over the next two years, until its completion in June 1919. Done by staff of the Lucas factory, with the support of local farmers, the planting included 23 species of trees. These exotic deciduous species were planted in single lines along either side of the road, at regular spacings of 10 - 12 metres. Each species was planted in blocks of 25 trees, on either side of the road. A timber plaque was originally attached to each tree, although in 1934 these were replaced by permanent bronze plaques.

Ballarat, Avenue of Honour, 
each tree with a personalised plaque

Following cessation of hostilities in 1919 and completion of the avenue of trees, the Lucas Girls next began planning and fund raising of £2600 for a commemorative arch; it was to provide an impressive entrance to the already existing Avenue of Honour.

This Arch of Victory was designed by HH Smith, Head of the Art School at the School of Mines Ballarat. It was a grand cement-rendered masonry structure, having one central arch flanked by wide piers 20metres in width, spanning the roadway. The 18 metres high arch, erected in 1920, was crowned by the Rising Sun symbol of the Australian Commonwealth Military Forces. And beneath it, the words Avenue of Honour and Victory were written prominently across the arch.

In addition to the initial costs, for the Avenue of Honour and the Arch of Victory, a further £400 was donated by the public to a Maintenance Fund, with a returned soldier employed to attend to the trees.

The Ballarat Avenue project required a high level of community participation because the work took place over a substantial period of time. The Arch of Victory and Avenue of Honour became emblems of civic commitment to the war effort, both projects being officially opened by Prince of Wales in June 1920.

The Avenue of Honour at Ballarat set a precedent. It was soon followed by the planting of 91 similar avenues in Victoria, especially in Central Victoria, after the Great War ended. The Bacchus Marsh Avenue of Honour was dedicated in August 1918; 281 Canadian elms were planted alongside the 2 kilometres of road leading into the town. The dead soldiers of Bacchus Marsh were remembered in alphabetical order, allowing surviving family members to grieve for their sons, brothers and nephews together.

Other Arches of Victory, in the tradition of the grand Roman victory arches erected across major carriage ways, can be seen at White Hills Botanic Gardens Bendigo and in Murtoa. Clearly neither had the size nor prominent location of Ballarat’s Arch of Victory, but they were much loved in their grief-stricken rural communities

Bacchus Marsh, Avenue of Honour,
each tree with a personalised plaque
The National Museum of Australia in Canberra says this country built more WW1 memorials per head of population than any other country. They suggested it was because so many men were buried overseas and the memorials were seen to represent their graves. I think that, had the bodies been returned to Australia, parents and widows would have had private graves to go to. But each community would still have needed public sites to memorialise the town's sacrifice and to honour Australian heroism.

Photographers Sarah Wood and Rosemary Simpson have recorded 23 heritage-listed memorial avenues from WW1 across Victoria, plus one or two great memorial arches. Their photographic exhibition, Avenues of Honour, was displayed at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne until January 2011.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Hels:
The idea of trees being planted to commemorate the dead of the First World War, and indeed the Second, is something which we feel to be an appropriate memorial to all those who lost their lives in these most terrible conflicts. The arch at Ballarat, in our view, on account of its rather oppressively grand construction, somewhat takes away from the original intention of a simple avenue.

Here, as you may imagine, the commemoration of those who have died in the service of their country remains fairly low key although, of course, War Memorials exist.

Hels said...

Jane and Lance

I hadn't thought about it till you two responded, but of course *slaps forehead*!

The avenue of named trees was designed and planted by female staff of the Lucas factory, with the support of local farmers. It was low key and very personal.

The Arch of Victory was designed by the Head of the Art School at the School of Mines, so it was professional, formal and heroic. The arch wasn't remotely personal.

hanna montis said...

I enjoying visiting the war memorials of every places. It simply means that they value the heroes of the world war. Its a part of history and should be preserve and shared ti the new generation.
obgyn west palm beach

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I think that both kinds of war memorials are needed, the grand-scale ones that remind us of the scale of the tragedy (and sometimes to help convince or remind that a victory or principle was worth it), and also these more personal monuments, that remind us of the individual sacrifices and grief of which the larger is composed.

Don001 said...

I wonder why the idea of an Avenue of Honour never took off in New Zealand? I would have thought the idea of individualising trees to each fallen soldier would have appealed. Again, I never cease to be impressed by our creative Australian cousins, the "Great Ocean Road" which I was on last year being another case in point.

Hels said...


I agree. It is especially important to take teenagers to war memorials because they have little sense of history. My boys had no idea that their grandfather was a soldier in WW2 and that my grandfather was a soldier in WW1.

Hels said...


Good point.

The reason we have to focus on the personal is because our governments (British first, then all the British Empire nations) that no family would be allowed to repatriate their dead son's body from where he fell in Flanders or wherever. This was sensible since the army couldn't afford to return the bodies, and rich families shouldn't be privileged over poor families. Every identifiable body was to be buried in an Imperial War Grave, in Europe.

But where did the parents and widows go, to mourn their dead? Not back to Europe! And not to a collective shrine or arch in the middle of a public highway.

Hels said...


The Great Ocean Road is actually a perfect example. When the Depression struck in 1929-31, and BIG projects had to be designed and funded by government, the Great Ocean Rd went ahead. Brilliant plan!

Even better, the government gave priority to employing ex-servicemen from WW1.

Andrew said...

While I've been to Ballarat a few times, I haven't seen the arch. Avenues of Honour should be treated with utmost respect, which unfortunately for the Bachus Marsh avenue, are not always by authorities.

Maria said...

DH and I visited Ballaarat in May and I was amazed at the size of this memorial; very impressive!

Jim said...

The arch is magnificent.

Hels said...


what happened to the Bacchus March avenue of honour that makes you think it wasn't treated with respect? Vandalism? Lack of maintenance?

Hels said...


agreed. The arch is imposing and the avenue of honour is long and handsome. But the memorial rotunda and wall are more intimate.

Hels said...


Correct :) Ballarat is one of my favourite goldfield towns. I try and spend one long weekend there each year.

Leon and Sue Sims said...

Always enjoy your informative articles. How many times have we driven the Avenue of honour, hard to say but it always impresses me.
I didn't know the history of its origins. What forward thinking ladies of the Lucas factory.

the foto fanatic said...

There is a significance in these memorials that exists today.

Young men, asked by their country (I know WWI soldiers were largely volunteers, but there was surely social pressure) to fight far from their homes, sacrificed their lives as a result of a conflict that had little to do with them.

We humans learn our lessons painfully slowly.

Hels said...

Foto fanatic

After two very divisive and bitterly fought referenda at home, Australia finally legislated for mandatory conscription in Sept 1916. But by then arguably the worst two years of endless, needless massacres of teenage boys on both sides had been "achieved". Needless to say I am anti-war and anti-conscription, except for self-defence.

Those teenagers were babies, and they didn't even have the vote. Memorials in every single suburb and country town were therefore essential at the time and, as you say, still now.

Hels said...

Leon and Sue,

*nod* I often think that community action is more sincere and heart felt than official action by a government minister or a lord mayor.

Not only did the Lucas girls lose their brothers and school friends; I believe they understood that a generation of potential husbands had been wiped out. My grade 5 teacher in the 1950s was still lamenting the loss of her pilot-fiance in 1916 :(

columnist said...

A tree is such a terrific memorial to anyone. The resultant memorials to those who died in the slaughter of WWI is a testament to the ghastliness and magnitude of mindless death. Would that the flourishing of nature would teach us the decimation of life. Sadly, we may remember, but we seldom learn.

Hels said...


The flourishing of nature, yes! The parents, widows and orphans of the soldiers visited their individual trees and lovingly looked after them.

But what happened with the passage of time? After the youngest siblings died, who would have remembered or cared about dead teenagers from 1914-18? I can imagine that by 1970, the names and the sacrifices would have been totally forgotten :(

Andrew said...

VicRoads wanted to remove five trees from the Avenue of Honour to build a round-a-bout. I did not realise the matter had been resolved until now. http://melton-leader.whereilive.com.au/news/story/bacchus-marsh-avenue-of-honour-preserved-for-future-generations/

Hels said...

thank you for that. I had no idea there was even an issue in Bacchus Marsh Avenue of Honour. And well done, the workers from the Darley Firebrick Company.

Here is what the Minister said in Jan 2012: Three kilometres in length with 281 elm trees, the Bacchus Marsh Avenue of Honour and its magnificent cathedral-like arching canopy is a living memorial to those who served our country.

The trees were planted on 10th August 1918 by local volunteers and workers from the Darley Firebrick Company, and the community effort attracted over a thousand spectators. At the conclusion of a bugle call, 281 elms were planted in symphony, each representing an individual soldier, each with a name plaque.