Springvale War Cemetery, Springvale, Melbourne

Reflection

War cemeteries are a profound acknowledgment of the ultimate sacrifice made to serve a country. They highlight and commemorate the individual loss within the greater collective and also allow us to begin to comprehend the magnitude of sacrifice and impact war has on families, communities and society as a whole.

When Australia entered World War II in September 1939, the Government made a conscious commitment to begin planning for the significant loss of life that would undoubtably follow. Six acres (2.4 hectares) of land was purchased and set aside within the larger Springvale Botanical Cemetery, formerly Springvale Necropolis, for the service burials of men and women. Of this land, the Springvale War Cemetery consists of 0.8 hectares dedicated to the graves of 607 World War II Commonwealth service people and the adjacent Victorian Cremation Memorial which commemorates a further 75. In the early-1960s the remaining allotment of land became the gracious Victorian Garden of Remembrance which commemorates the service of Veterans from a range of campaigns, and was extended again in the late-1980s.

The governing principles for the architectural treatment and layout for War Graves throughout the Commonwealth, including Springvale, was established by Sir Frederic Kenyon. In November 1917, during World War I, London born Sir Frederic Kenyon was appointed Imperial War Graves Commission Artistic Advisor. His vision was that each cemetery would include an:

…enclosure with plots of grass or flowers (or both) separated by paths of varying size, and set with orderly rows of headstones, uniform in height and width… The graves will, wherever possible, face towards the east, and at the eastern end of the cemetery will be a great altar stone. ...elsewhere in the cemetery, will be a small building, where visitors may gather for shelter or for worship, and where the register of the graves will be kept.

The Springvale War Cemetery is one of 72 Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemeteries and plots throughout Australia, managed by the Office of Australian War Graves (OAWG). At Springvale the graves are set amongst an immaculate lawn of Santa Ana couch grass, with neat rows of flowers and shrubs placed between each Ulam Queensland marble headstone. The uniform rows of headstones reflect the lines of a battalion or a parade of service personnel. The headstone for each grave (or bronze plaque in the memorial) is inscribed, where known, with the national emblem or service-regimental badge, rank, name, unit, age, date of death, and, in most cases, a personal inscription chosen by relatives. Photographs from the 1940s indicate that originally cruciform markers were used, which were later replaced with the elegant carved marble design.

A black and white photograph of a ceremony taking place in front of a large stone crucifix. Two rows of military personnel can be seen in the foreground holding rifles. The unveiling of the Cross of Sacrifice at Springvale War Cemetery, 1948. Source: State Library of Victoria.

Many of the graves in the War Cemetery are for service people who died from war-related wounds in the Heidelberg Military Hospital after returning from operational areas, and of others who died from accident or sickness. Of the 607 graves, more than 30 are women’s graves, reflecting the enormous role women played throughout World War II both in service and on the home front. During World War I, women’s service was largely restricted to nursing, medical, and voluntary roles, however during World War II, a women’s arm of each of the services was created. The women buried in the War Cemetery include members of the Australian Women’s Army Service, Australian Army Medical Women’s Service, RAAF Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force, and Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service.

Located centrally with the composition is the Cross of Sacrifice, a feature of many cemeteries situated on former battlefields around the world. It rises from the earth as the symbol of the sacrifice of those who rest beneath its shadow. The bronze Cross of Sacrifice is a “Type A”, reflecting that the number of burials is between 251 and 2,000, whilst Types “B” and “C” crosses signify higher numbers of burials in a war cemetery. Behind the cross stands the shelter containing the Victorian Cremation Memorial. Burials in the war cemetery stopped in 1947 but a repatriated Vietnam War soldier was buried here in 2016.

A black and white photograph of men in military uniforms standing in a cemetery. The group face each other and are saluting. There is a group of onlookers in the background. Funeral of Lieutenant RK Monro, Officer-In-Charge and Official War Photographer in the Middle East, who died at Heidelberg Military Hospital and was buried at Springvale War Cemetery, 5 July 1945. Source: Australian War Memorial

The adjacent Victorian Garden of Remembrance houses more than 61,000 individual plaques on a series of refined and regimental brick piers set amongst a verdant garden setting. The vast majority of these are Australia’s post-war dead: those veterans of war who died later of causes attributed to their service. The plaques are commemorative only, and no remains are located within this area of the cemetery. These commemorations are to be maintained in perpetuity.

The Springvale War Cemetery is the second largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in Australia. Records of those service men and women buried or commemorated in the Springvale War Cemetery can be found on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

Located on traditionally owned Aboriginal lands.