“We Need to Remember Them"
An unmarked grave. No details. No name. No age. Nothing. A void. Desolate. Forgotten. A bare plot revealing nothing.
Devastatingly sad. Especially so when you know the plot is the resting place of one who was willing to sacrifice his life for you and me.
700 World War I veterans in unmarked graves just in Tasmania alone. And around Australia, it would be thousands. It doesn't bear thinking. They deserve better.
Men who had fought for our safety, our values, our way of life.
The same service personnel we commemorated and honoured on Remembrance Day just six days ago, promising "we will remember them".
Yet many of them lie unknown, unrecognised, unacknowledged. We forgot them.
A national disgrace. We didn't care as we should have cared. We didn't remember them.
Alienated from family, from society, or the ravages of the depression making a headstone unaffordable, whatever the reasons our Nation didn't honour our returned men in death.
Into this void, this blot on our nation entered Andrea Gerrard OAM - a diminutive lady with tenacity, passion and professionalism.
And so the Headstone Project was born.
Through her involvement in the Families and Friends of the First AIF Inc Andrea Gerrard brought this disgrace to light. Not satisfied at just finding this neglect Andrea set about to rectify this appalling situation.
In Tasmania, about 500 out of the 700 veterans who languished unrecognised are now acknowledged with an appropriate headstone and plaque thanks to a wonderful team effort spearheaded by Andrea Gerrard.
Private support from the corporate sector including - Mitre 10, Cement Australia, Sika, Kings Trailers, Nyrstar, Crossroads Concrete and My Pathway, together with RSL's and the 12th/40 Battalion Royal Tasmanian Regiment display the strong and generous community spirit and support. Local Government from Launceston to Hobart, the Derwent Valley to King Island have chipped in as well.
It was my privilege to assist with facilitating a number of Work for the Dole programmes to assist. Rewarding not only for myself but the participants who found their involvement exceptionally rewarding. More recently DGR (Deductible Gift Recipient} status for tax purposes was granted. Not much advocacy was needed on my part with the Treasurer readily accepting the worthiness of this wonderful cause.
In typical style for Andrea the placement of headstones was simply not enough. As each group of headstones was completed a fitting ceremony was held with the Governor, Chief of Army, Director of the War Memorial, the Minister for Veterans Affairs, variously officiating at the unveiling ceremonies. The ceremonies included local students researching and providing a brief biography of each digger whose dignity in death has been restored.
The Headstone Project has allowed families to be reunited with their ancestors and loved ones as well.
Not surprisingly the Headstone Project initiative has been observed and replicated on the mainland leading the Minister for Veteran Affairs at the last election to start a national pilot programme of co-funding with communities.
As we rightly saluted our veterans last week, we should also salute the Andrea Gerrards of this world who see a need and selflessly dedicate themselves to seeing the need fulfilled. An OAM in 2018 was deserved recognition for Andrea's efforts, as was the Community Group of the Year Award at last years’ Tasmanian Community Achievement Awards.
Anyone wishing to be involved in the worthy Headstone Project can contact
Bare plots have been transformed into enduring memorials of appreciation thanks to Andrea Gerrard OAM. Her committee is converting community goodwill into practical action to ensure we live up to our commitment to remember them.