FALLEN DIGGER LAID TO REST
The Unknown Soldier made the long journey to his final resting place in Canberra 25 years ago
TOMORROW the Gold Coast and the world will pause to remember those fallen and the horrors of war.
It will mark 100 years since the end of World War I, the conflict which was supposed to be the “war to end all wars”.
The war officially ended at 11am on November 11, 1918 after an armistice was signed in France some hours earlier.
Along the line, many commanders used the final hours to begin withdrawing troops from the front lines, seeing no further point in fighting.
Despite this, the battles continued in some quarters, with the last to die, an American, shot and killed at 10.59am, a minute before peace came into effect.
Remembrance Day was a particularly solemn affair 25 years ago as the day was commemorated with the interring in Canberra of Australia’s Unknown Soldier.
The Unknown Soldier’s remains arriving at the Australian War Memorial 75 years after his death on the Western Front was front page news on November 11, 1993.
More than 35,000 people, many of them veterans, watched in the nation’s capital as the Unknown Soldier was transported by gun carriage from old Parliament House to the Australian War Memorial.
Millions watched a live telecast of the coffin in the procession, led by military escort and flanked by pallbearers including Prime Minister Paul Keating, Opposition Leader John Hewson, services chiefs and the head of the RSL, Major General William “Digger” James.
It was followed by Governor-General Bill Hayden, state premiers and other politicians.
Mr Keating gave a famous speech at the ceremony, words of which are now carved into the memorial to the soldier.
“We know that he was one of the 45,000 Australians who died on the Western Front. One of the 416,000 Australians who volunteered for service in the First World War. One of the 324,000 Australians who served overseas in that war and one of the 60,000 Australians who died on foreign soil. One of the 100,000 Australians who have died in wars this century,” Mr Keating said.
“He is all of them. And he is one of us.”
On the Gold Coast, one of the few remaining World War I veterans spoke approvingly of the service.
For Dan Sheldon, a veteran of two world wars, Remembrance Day was something he had been awaiting for 75 years.
It was the day he remembered his mates and saw Australia finally enshrine a symbol that would remind future generations of the men who lost their lives fighting.
Mr Sheldon, then 91, was one of three Gold Coast World War I veterans who braved the rain outside the Southport RSL to commemorate the armistice and the day the Unknown Soldier was buried on home soil. “I am glad he has come home,” Mr Sheldon said. “Having him here will make people think and remember history.”
Mr Sheldon, who received a bravery award, said he believed Remembrance Day would never be forgotten even after the last World War I veteran passed away. “My son fought in Vietnam and my other son is a commander in the Navy and as long as people remember those who died in the war, Armistice Day will never be forgotten,” he said.
“But I don’t like the idea of a republic. We fought under the flag and if it goes I think a lot of history will be forgotten.”
Mr Sheldon joined around 100 people, including children, young men and veterans, at the service.
Even those who did not attend but were talking nearby stopped in their tracks as The Last Post rang out.
Gold Coast World War I and II veteran Dan Sheldon on Remembrance Day in 1993, then aged 91, the year the Unknown Soldier was laid to rest at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra (below).