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Known Only Unto God

  • April 14th, 2007
  • Posted by Emily Balfe

graves-at-tyne-cot.jpgA group of five Australians killed in World War One, their bodies recovered from a makeshift grave in Belgium just last year, are to be buried with military honours 90 years after they lost their lives.

Emily Balfe visited Passchendaele, in Flanders.
At a military cemetery in a place called Polygon Wood, many of the headstones bear no name – just the simple inscription “known unto God”.

On the 4th October this year, five Australians killed in the notoriously brutal Battle of Passchendaele, will be re-interred there.

Though their names and ranks are still unknown – or at least known only unto God – the five, like thousands of others, will finally have a marker to be seen by the hundreds of thousands who visit the Flanders battelefields.

More than the usual number of visitors are expected this year for the 90th anniversary of the Battle, and the commemorations will have a distinctly ANZAC flavour, to mark the major contribution the antipodean soldiers made.

Naval Commander Clive Dunchue, Australia’s resident Defence Adviser to NATO and the European Union, is working with the Australian Embassy (Brussels) and local people to organise the anniversary tribute.

“The local communities have banded together and they’ve planned some significant activities – in particular they have an ANZAC weekend, and during that time there’ll be a joint commemoration ceremony with the New Zealanders, and a dinner highlighting Australian food and wine,” Cmdr. Dunchue said at Passchendaele (11.4.07).

Four hundred thousand people a year make the pilgrimage to Flanders to pay respects to the heroes of the First World War, among them a large contingent of Australians.

“When you have a look at the number of graves here and you have a look at the respect and the honour which is bestowed on those Australians who travelled so far from their home country, quite often to give up their lives, that generates within Australians a sense of pride and belief in what they stand for,” Cmdr. Dunchue said.

Major General Paul Stevens, Director of the Office of Australian War Graves, made a tour of inspection this month.

He said (11.4.07) the region’s harrowing and humbling monuments are of special importance to the descendants of diggers of the Great War – and also serve as inspiration to current servicemen and women.

“You build a force on the people that have gone before you and the way they did things and the way they approached things and their achievements,” Gen. Stevens said.

“So when the ADF members come here and they look at that, well, this is something for them to live up to.”
The bodies of more than 100,000 Allied soldiers known to have died in the Great War have never been recovered – their names are etched on the Menen Gate in the nearby city of Ieper.

It is not unusual for these and other remnants of war to be unearthed by a farmer ploughing his field or a builder laying foundations.

Until then, though, they remain known only unto God.

Picture: The war cemetery at Tyne Cot, scene of the Australian advance during the Battle of Passchendaele