Forgotten no more: volunteers seek to honour WWI veterans

April 2, 2024 BY

There are more than 400 service people buried at the Queenscliff cemetery, with at least 31 resting in unmarked or 'tin plate' graves.

A VOLUNTEER-LED initiative to locate and commemorate the World War I veterans buried throughout Victoria in unmarked graves has launched on the Bellarine.

Across the state, thousands of veterans are believed to be resting in graves that are either unmarked or memorialised with only a tin plate.

Led by army chaplain Geoffery Traill, who is based out of Victoria Barracks in Melbourne, the Headstone Project follows the lead of similar initiatives operating in Tasmania and South Australia.

“The mission is to mark the graves of our veterans at no cost to the family,” Mr Traill said.

“We want to bring the Borough of Queenscliffe together to find and honour our soldiers, to remember their service, to mark their graves at their point of burial, but most importantly, to reconnect them to their families.”

The Victorian pilot was officially launched on Friday last week in Point Lonsdale at a talk hosted by the Queenscliffe Historical Museum (QHM).

“The Queenscliffe Historical Museum has been at the forefront of this project and it’s really through their encouragement…that this began around the middle of last year,” Mr Traill said.

He has now been researching the Queenscliff cemetery for eight months, so far identifying at least 31 servicemen residing in unmarked or “tin plate” graves.

“In the aftermath of the horrific World War I, which we can only but imagine, Australian soldiers returned physically maimed and emotionally traumatised, and they were given gravestones,” QHM’s Mary-lou Gilbert said.

“But, in the midst of the last century it was deemed by the ANZAC office that it was too costly to maintain and a lot of them were smashed and only tiny little tin plates were put up to signify where they were, if at all.”

She said that while the practice of decommissioning graves ceased in the 70s, there were still several ‘tin plate’ graves in need of restoration.

Several other veterans never received headstones, with a variety of factors including mental health struggles, family estrangement and unemployment contributing to many servicemen being buried in unmarked graves.

“Some of the soldiers are there because of the family’s financial circumstances during the Great Depression,” Mr Traill said.

“For many families, it was a choice between putting food on the table or putting a headstone on their relative’s grave.”

The project is now looking for volunteers to assist with a variety of tasks, including research and writing grant applications.

“Let’s change ‘Yes we forget’ to, ‘Lest we forget’,” Mr Traill said.

“We hope that we can have this logged up in the next 12 months for Point Lonsdale/Queenscliff and we’ll move onto Portarlington and then onto St Leonards.

“We’ve got 21 other cemeteries here in the Geelong region to begin to work on, so there’s a fair amount of work ahead of us.”

For more information, head to historyofqueenscliffe.com