Skip links and keyboard navigation

Atherton War Cemetery

  • 602765
  • Cnr Kennedy Highway and Rockley Road, Atherton

General

Classification
State Heritage
Register status
Entered
Date entered
19 November 2010
Type
Burial ground: Cemetery—private
Theme
7.6 Maintaining order: Defending the country
Construction period
unknown
Historical period
1939–1945 World War II

Location

Address
Cnr Kennedy Highway and Rockley Road, Atherton
LGA
Tablelands Regional Council
Coordinates
-17.276481, 145.493685

Map

Street view

Photography is provided by Google Street View and may include third-party images. Images show the vicinity of the heritage place which may not be visible.

Request a boundary map

A printable boundary map report can be emailed to you.

Significance

Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

The Atherton War Cemetery is important in demonstrating the pattern of Queensland's history, being a product of Australia's involvement in World War II. North Queensland in general and the Atherton Tablelands in particular were important military sites during this country's involvement in the war in the South-West Pacific between 1941 and 1945. The Atherton War Cemetery is important as a memorial site to Australian soldiers and airmen who fought and died during the conflict, particularly in New Guinea.

The Atherton War Cemetery is closely associated with the Imperial (later Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, established by Sir Fabian Ware in 1921 to commemorate all individuals killed during war and to provide their families with a dignified and lasting memorial.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

The Atherton War Cemetery is important in illustrating the principal features drawn from the design guidelines that were established after World War I by the Imperial (later Commonwealth) War Graves Commission to ensure war cemeteries of this size suitably commemorated the fallen. These include uniform headstones in regular rows, the Cross of Sacrifice and manicured gardens; aspects of which appear in the 2,500 war cemeteries constructed in approximately 150 countries around the world and serve to make a dignified and reverential memorial site. These key characteristics and the aesthetic quality they create have strong associations with four internationally significant architects: Sir Edwin Lutyens, Sir Herbert Baker, Sir Reginald Blomfield and Charles Holden.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

The Atherton War Cemetery is an evocative site that conveys the distinctive aesthetic qualities and solemn ambience essential to all Imperial (later Commonwealth) War Graves Commission cemeteries. The formality of the War Cemetery - with its Cross of Sacrifice and uniform white marble headstones arranged in a regular pattern within a manicured lawn and horticultural border - make it a prominent feature distinguishable from the less formalised layout of the general cemetery.

History

The Atherton War Cemetery established in 1942, is situated within the Atherton Cemetery Reserve on the Kennedy Highway on the outskirts of Atherton. It contains a Cross of Sacrifice and 164 graves and headstones for soldiers and airmen killed during World War II. The Atherton War Cemetery is an example of the way in which the Imperial War Graves Commission's design principles, which were developed and implemented after World War I, were applied in a region that is significant for its World War II history and associations.

The Imperial War Graves Commission (which became the Commonwealth Graves Commission in 1960) was established in Britain by Royal Charter on 21 May 1917. The Commission's founder and vice chairman, Sir Fabian Ware, had submitted a memorandum to the 1917 Imperial War Conference outlining his concern for the upkeep of graves and sites of commemoration. During the conflict, Ware had used his mobile British Red Cross Unit to register and care for graves, and had received countless requests from bereaved families for information regarding their loved ones.

Once the Commission was formed, it resolved to create lasting memorials to those who lost their lives in battle and those families who had lost their loved ones.

To fulfil this aim, the Commission engaged eminent British architects to design the cemeteries and memorials. Sir Edwin Lutyens, Sir Herbert Baker and Sir Reginald Blomfield were the first three principal architects of the Commission and the Director of the British Museum, Sir Frederic Kenyon, drew their recommendations into a set of key principles regarding the development and management of the cemeteries. These principles determined that each of the dead should be commemorated by name on the headstone or memorial; headstones and memorials should be permanent; headstones should be uniform; and there should be no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed.

The principles were then applied to three experimental cemeteries at Le Treport, Louvencourt and Forceville in France. Of these, the last was considered the most successful. In consultation with renowned garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, a walled cemetery was built there with rows of uniform headstones set in narrow garden beds within a lawn in a symmetrical layout with a centre aisle between Blomfield's Cross of Sacrifice on the western boundary and Lutyens' Stone of Remembrance on the eastern boundary. After some adjustments, Forceville became the template for the Commission's building program.

The Imperial (later Commonwealth) War Graves cemeteries thus incorporated the following key elements (although some were contingent on the number of burials):

Cross of Sacrifice

The central focus of war cemeteries with over 40 burials is the Cross of Sacrifice. It was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, an Imperial War Graves Commission architect who fought in the First World War. He created a tall, finely proportioned stone cross, with a symbolic downward pointing sword of bronze attached to its face, thus emphasising both the military character of the cemetery and the religious affiliation of the majority of the dead. It was designed to represent the faith of the majority and generally ranges in height between 4.5m and 9m depending on the size of the cemetery.

Stone of Remembrance

Sir Edwin Lutyens also fought in the First World War and was responsible for designing a general monument to be placed in war cemeteries called the Stone of Remembrance. It is suggestive of an altar and yet abstract and non-denominational, with horizontal lines and curved surfaces. The design was based on complex geometry derived from the Parthenon, giving an impression of majesty and tranquillity. Inscribed on the stone is the quote 'Their name liveth for evermore', taken from the Ecclesiasticus and chosen by Rudyard Kipling. The Stone of Remembrance is present in cemeteries where there are more than 1,000 burials and occasionally elsewhere although not at Atherton.

Headstones

Imperial (later Commonwealth) War Graves Commission cemeteries contain headstones of a standard pattern, usually set in perfectly straight rows. At the top of each headstone is engraved the national emblem or the service or regimental badge of the dead person, followed by their rank, name, unit, date of death, age and often an appropriate religious emblem. At the foot of the headstone there is, in many cases, an inscription chosen by the person's relatives. Some cemeteries, for climatic reasons, use low pedestals with bronze plaques instead of headstones.

Horticulture

Creating a garden setting for war cemeteries, in an effort to make them places of quite contemplation, beauty and soothing to the bereaved, was one of the earliest ideas generated by the War Graves Commission. These ideas were put into practice by the architects involved, in particular Sir Edwin Lutyens who worked closely with the renowned garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. Her ideas about traditional cottage garden plants, particularly flowering ones, and their placement greatly influenced the appearance of war cemeteries.

Soon after the Commission completed its program of World War I cemeteries in 1938, World War II began and the Commission realised that their efforts would be needed in many more countries. As that war progressed in the Allies' favour, the Commission began restoring its WWI cemeteries and memorials and commenced the task of commemorating 600,000 Commonwealth casualties from WWII. It built 559 new cemeteries and 36 new memorials and changed its name to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the 1960s as the construction program of WWII cemeteries drew to a close.

The Atherton War Cemetery

The Atherton War Cemetery was created on land adjoining the Atherton General Cemetery (1928) in 1942, the year before the Tableland's Base Area was established as part of the Atherton Project (when the Australian Army Headquarters moved from Townsville to the Tablelands) and at the same time that the Australian General Hospital (2/2 and 2/6) at Rocky Creek commenced operations. The area between Atherton and Cairns was used extensively as a training ground during World War II for Australian troops involved in action in New Guinea, Bougainville and the later landings at Aitape-Wewak, Tarakan, Labuan and Balikpapan. The Tablelands Base Area created a constant flow of Army traffic through Atherton's main street, as camps were set up to train troops in jungle warfare before their being sent to the islands north of Australia. Australia's 6th, 7th and 9th Division were based in the Atherton region. Wounded soldiers were taken to the Rocky Creek World War II Hospital Complex as well as to the station hospital at Mareeba State School.

The first burial in the Atherton War Cemetery took place following the death on 4 January 1943 of Gunner AM Hemsworth, of the Royal Australian Artillery (Grave AC1). In 1944 the cemetery was resurveyed and redesigned by members of the 7th Graves Registration and Environment Unit. Plans reveal a symmetrical design that comprised a grid of three equal sized plots A, B C in an east-west orientation with 11 evenly spaced rows containing 10 rows of 16 and one row of four headstones. The plots were separated by gravel paths. To the south of the plots an expanse of lawn divided into three with gravel paths, contained a Cross of Sacrifice at its centre. The whole was surrounded by a gravel roadway with gardens/lawn between it and the perimeter fencing. The burials were arranged chronologically with 1943-1944 burials occurring in Plot A, 1944 burials in Plot B and 1945-46 burials in Plot C. The last burial took place following the death of Lieutenant Frank Stuart-Boyle, Australian Army Ordnance Corps on 1 December 1946 (Grave CC4). Graves in the Atherton War Cemetery were initially marked by white wooden timber crosses and later replaced with the marble headstones although there are no documentary records that specifically state when this occurred. Photographic records held at the Australian War Memorial indicate the change occurred between 1944 and 1949.

Early images depict a flag pole in the cemetery, which was the focal point for each burial service. The flagpole has been replaced by the Cross of Sacrifice, in keeping with Commission policy that cemeteries with more than 40 graves have a Cross of Sacrifice. In total, there are 164 graves in the cemetery, representing 19 different Australian regiments including: Infantry, Army Service Corps, Air Force, Volunteer Defence Corps, Medical Corps and Engineers. One grave belongs to a member of the Young Men's Christian Association.

A formal agreement was made in 1948 between the Shire of Atherton and the Imperial War Graves Commission (Anzac Agency) to hold Atherton War Cemetery in perpetuity for use as a war cemetery and granted rights to the Commission regarding use of the land.

There are 14 war cemeteries and plots in Queensland, including the one at Atherton: Lutwyche War Cemetery (386 burials) and Cremation Memorial, Bundaberg War Cemetery (35 burials), Ipswich War Cemetery (68 burials), Kingaroy War Cemetery (22 burials), Maryborough (10 burials), Rockhampton War Cemetery (36 burials), Toowoomba War Cemetery (44 burials, QHR 602718), Townsville War Cemetery (222 burials), Cairns War Cemetery (98 burials), Charters Towers War Cemetery (33 burials), Gympie War Cemetery (5 burials), Warwick War Cemetery (21 burials, QHR 602152), and Woombye War Cemetery (26 burials). In addition there are a number of individual war graves in civil cemeteries throughout Queensland. The war cemeteries and individual graves in civil cemeteries are maintained by the Office of Australian War Graves, a branch of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. The Office of Australian War Graves is the agent of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Norfolk Island.

References

Cohen, Kay, Margaret Cook, Howard Pearce, and Queensland. Environmental Protection Agency. Heritage Trails of the Tropical North: A Heritage Tour Guide to Far North Queensland. Book, Whole vols. Brisbane: Queensland Environmental Protection Agency, 2001.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Information Sheet: The Structural Maintenance of the Commission's Cemeteries and Memorials Commonwealth War Graves Commission, [cited 3 July 2007]. Available from www.cwgc.org/admin/files/cwgc_structural.pdf.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission. A History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, [cited 3 July 2007]. Available from http://www.cwgc.org/.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Website http://www.cwgc.org/content.asp?menuid=1&id=1&menuname=Who%20We%20Are&menu=main & http://www.cwgc.org/search/cemetery_details.aspx?cemetery=2022502&mode=1

http://www.cwgc.org/search/cemetery_plans.aspx?cemetery=2022502&mode=1

Description

The Atherton War Cemetery is located within the Atherton Cemetery Reserve on the south-eastern outskirts of the town. The war cemetery occupies the north-western corner of the triangular shaped 3.9 ha reserve which is bounded by Rockley Road to the north and the Kennedy Highway to the south-west.

The main entrance to the war cemetery is at the eastern end of the northern boundary which is formed by a brick pier and four-rail concrete fence. Wrought iron gates secure the entrance which is incorporated into a shelter constructed of brick columns with a concrete lattice roof. The shelter houses a bench, and a register box for a visitors' book and cemetery register. Bronze plated plaques attached to the shelter are inscribed as follows:

THIS WAR CEMETERY IS MAINTAINED

ON BEHALF OF

THE COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES

COMMISSION

BY THE

OFFICE OF AUSTRALIAN WAR GRAVES

Another bronze plaque reads:

DURING THE LAST 3 YEARS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR,1942-45, THE ATHERTON TABLELANDS AREA SERVED AS A MAJOR BASE AND TRAINING AREA FOR AUSTRALIAN TROOPS INVOLVED IN ACTION IN NEW GUINEA, BOUGAINVILLE AND THE LATER LANDINGS AT AITAPE - WEWAK, TARAKAN, LABUAN AND BALIKPAPAN. AUSTRALIA'S 6TH, 7TH AND 9TH DIVISIONS WERE BASED IN THE ATHERTON REGION, AND FROM HERE THE AIR FORCE STRUCK AT THE JAPANESE PRESSING DOWN FROM THE NORTH AND NORTH-WEST. MANY OF THE SERVICEMEN BURIED AT THIS SITE DIED IN LOCAL MILITARY HOSPITALS FROM WAR-RELATED WOUNDS, ACCIDENT OR ILLNESS.

THE ATHERTON WAR CEMETERY CONTAINS 164 BURIALS, COMPRISING 151 AUSTRALIAN ARMY, 12 RAAF AND 1 YMCA MEMBER.

A secondary service entrance for site management is located at the western end of the northern boundary fence with the remaining boundaries enclosed with mesh panel fencing.

The Atherton War Cemetery contains 164 uniformly marked and spaced graves and a Cross of Sacrifice set within a manicured lawn and gardens. Each of the graves is marked by a white marble headstone, rectangular in shape with a rounded top, carved military insignia, name, and rank of each soldier buried. Some headstones bear an epitaph. The headstones are evenly arranged in 11 rows, set into a concrete strip footing. Ten of these contain 16 headstones each, the final row has four.

The Cross of Sacrifice is located approximately 7.5 metres from the middle row of the headstones and stands about 4 metres high, set on a 3 metre square base. The cross is made of sandstone with bronze swords mounted on two sides. The plinth, base, stem and cross are octagonal.

While the arrangement of garden beds at the perimeter of the cemetery is of cultural heritage significance, the plant species within them are not and are replaced and upgraded from time to time to the standard required by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and specified in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Horticultural Manual.

Image gallery

Location

Location of Atherton War Cemetery within Queensland
Licence
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last updated
20 January 2016
  1. Is your feedback about:
  2. (If you chose ‘website’ above)

    Page feedback

    1. How satisfied are you with your experience today? *
  3. (If you chose ‘service’ above)

    Feedback on government services, departments and staff

    Please use our complaints and compliments form.