“He is all of them. And he is one of us.”
Behind all headstones are the stories of our community, of our families, of our history and the Tomb of the Unknown soldier is no different. The man who now rests here met his death in France and for 75 years he rested under a headstone in Plot III, Row M, Grave 13 in Adelaide Cemetery in Villers-Bretonneux. Of this one man, who lay quiet for decades in a grave marked simply, ‘An Australian Soldier of the Great War, Known Unto God’ nothing is known. His name was lost among the hundreds of thousands of missing men along the Western Front between 1914 and 1918. On 11 November 1993, he was laid to rest in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to represent all those soldiers lost in WW1 without names, units or dates of death.
We do not know this Australian’s name and we never will. We do not know his rank or his battalion. We do not know where he was born, nor precisely how and when he died. We do not know where in Australia he had made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Europe. We do not know his age or his circumstances – whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they are. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them. We will never know who this Australian was.
Read or listen to the eulogy delivered at the funeral service of the Unknown Australian Soldier by Paul Keating. Click here for the Eulogy for the Unknown Australian Soldier.
The Unknown Soldier lies in a tomb beneath the dome of the Memorial’s Hall of Memory in remembrance of all Australians who died in war. For 75 years he rested in Adelaide Cemetery. There is still a headstone there but it carries this inscription:
The remains of an Unknown Soldier lay in this grave for seventy-five years. On 2 November 1993 they were removed and now rest in the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Want to know more about Adelaide Cemetery? Go to Australians on the Western Front 1914 – 1918, and the Australian Remembrance Trail in France and Belgium. A brilliant project from the Australian Department of Veteran Affairs.