The Shrine of Remembrance is among the most widely recognized of Melbourne’s landmarks. Built to honor citizens of Victoria who served and died in World War I, it is the largest and most visited war memorial in the state. The inscription on the side refers to “the Great War,” because when it was constructed, no one could imagine that there would be another war on such a scale.
Australians entered WWI when Britain did, in 1914. (The U.S. didn’t enter the war until 1917.) Australians were almost always at the forefront of the worst fighting in the war, from Gallipoli to Beersheba to France, and they sustained tremendous casualties. Despite being in the middle of a major economic depression after the war, the people of Victoria felt it was so important to honor those who served that the money needed to build the monument was raised in six months.
The design of the memorial was partly based on the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. (Interesting choice, really, because Halicarnassus, while the site of one of history’s most famous monuments, was in Turkey, and so many Australians died in Turkey during WWI.)
The monument has been modified over the years, with the addition of a forecourt to honor those who served in World War II, and a Remembrance Garden for wars since 1945. The Shrine of Remembrance is where Victorians hold their annual observances for ANZAC Day (April 25—the date that the ANZACs landed at Gallipoli in 1915) and Remembrance Day (November 11, like Memorial Day in the U.S.).
When my dad was fighting in North Africa during World War II, he met a lot of Australians, and it was in fact some of the friends he’d made, and the stories of them he told, that were the early foundation of my interest in Australia. The connection with my father made me feel acutely my debt to those honored by the memorial, though in all truth, I am moved by the sacrifices of any who fought, and fight, to keep the world free.