Walcha history: Honouring their memory

Piece of the past: The card gives the precise location of Edward Judge’s grave which is marked by the wreath. Photos: Lorraine Judge
Piece of the past: The card gives the precise location of Edward Judge’s grave which is marked by the wreath. Photos: Lorraine Judge

Driver Edward Hector Judge, a blacksmith and farrier from Walcha Road who was a member of the 33rd Battalion, died of bronchial pneumonia in hospital at Abbeville, France, on November 27, 1918. He was buried in the Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension.

The family received the photo of his grave and the accompanying card in 1920 together with Edward’s effects. His service medals, a 4¾-inch diameter bronze memorial plaque and a 72-page war cemeteries booklet titled Where the Australians Rest were forwarded as they became available.

Graves were originally marked with a wooden cross that was fitted with a stamped metal plate identifying the deceased. The wooden crosses were replaced later in the 1920s with permanent headstones. Next of kin were able to claim the original cross, but few did so. Vast numbers of these unclaimed crosses were eventually burned and the ashes spread around the many war cemeteries.

The Imperial War Graves Commission, whose member states were Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa and India, was formed in May 1917 and charged with the responsibility of establishing and caring for the great number of war cemeteries needed. The organisation was renamed the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the 1950s.

France granted land for cemeteries in perpetuity in December 1915, Belgium did the same in August 1917; other nations made an equivalent commitment later. The member states of the War Graves Commission unreservedly agreed to bear their share of whatever expense was involved in worthily honouring the memory of their dead.

It was not until after the Armistice of November 11, 1918 that work on the battlefields could proceed. It was decided to exhume and rebury many soldiers as the most practical way of providing honourable burials in well ordered and well maintained cemeteries. There were over 150,000 isolated graves of Allied soldiers in France and Belgium alone. Thousands of isolated graves on the Somme River and at Ypres were spread over distances of many miles while other burials were made on the site of ruined villages that were later rebuilt.

The plan was for orderly rows of headstones of uniform height, width and shape, separated by paths of various sizes and with gardens, shrubs and trees planted in convenient places. Wherever possible the graves faced east. A large stone altar inscribed “Their name liveth for evermore” was placed at the eastern end of each cemetery as was a small building where visitors could gather for shelter and for worship.