On 12 May 1937, Australian soldiers and sailors of the Coronation Contingent assembled and marched along the Royal Route to the Hyde Park Gate and out to Hyde Park Corner to take part in a parade to honour the crowning of King George VI. Nearly 67 years later some of those same soldiers returned to Hyde Park Corner for the dedication of the Australian War Memorial.
This memorial commemorates the service men and women who served in WWI and WWII by listing the names of the towns in which they were born. Superimposed on the 23,844 town names are 47 of the many battles in which they fought and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, Australia.
Occupying a prominent position on Hyde Park Corner in the heart of London, the site of the memorial is part of the ceremonial route that links Admiralty Arch, the Mall, Buckingham Palace and Marble Arch. Adjacent to the memorial is Wellington Arch, a monument to mark the victory of the Iron Duke at Waterloo.
Taking its inspiration from the contours of Hyde Park Corner, the memorial becomes partly a landform, rising from the surface and creating a focus for the site. Its use of green/grey Australian granite reflects the essence of the bush. Principal architect Peter Tonkin explains that 'the form chosen for the memorial reflects the sweep of Australian landscape, the breadth and generosity of our people, the openness that we believe should characterise our culture'. Also reflected in the shape of the wall are echoes of Australia’s unique flora and cultural heritage – the gumleaf and the boomerang.
The 23,844 place names that are etched into the solid granite of the wall record the origins of Australia’s sons and daughters who served their nation in the two world wars. They recall the impact that was felt by the families and communities of these towns. In the words of the design team, 'they are the places where families grieved and endured, where lives were resumed and carried on into the future'. One of the purposes of the memorial is to recognise the contribution made by these towns, some of which sent whole generations to serve in the wars.
The project’s completion was timed to coincide with the 85th anniversary of Armistice Day – 11 November 2003. The Australian War Memorial London was dedicated by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in the presence of the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. John Howard MP and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the Rt Hon. Tony Blair MP.
The opening of the memorial on 11 November at 11am, just 11 months after the process was started, represents a remarkable achievement by all of those who were involved in bringing this prestigious project to fruition.
The Australian War Memorial, London, is at Hyde Park Corner on the south west end of Green Park. The nearest Underground station is Hyde Park Corner.