What a Waste
by John Morris
What a Waste
Rookwood Cemetery is not the usual place for an afternoon stroll. It is a major Sydney feature, occupying nearly 300 hectares, an area as large as the Sydney CBD.
The Cemetery opened in 1867 and is now the largest working cemetery in the Southern Hemisphere, and the world's largest 19th century cemetery. It has become the final resting place for an estimated 1,000,000 Australians (There are no accurate statistical records), including some 732 resting places of Commonwealth service personnel. Provision is also made for the recording and display of the names of those who were buried at sea and for those whose resting place is unknown.
Rail access to the cemetery was available from 1865 to 1947 with regular scheduled services operating into the 1930's. Rail operations ceased in 1948 with the total dismantling of the rail line. "The stations were offered to the Joint Committee of Necropolis Trustees for the price of £1 but due to maintenance costs the offer was rejected and the platforms within the cemetery were demolished. Cemetery Station No. 1 at the head of the rail spur was sold to Reverend Buckle for £100 in 1951 and was moved to Canberra in 1957 to become the All Saints Church, Canberra." (1)
I dropped in to acquaint myself with the small war graves site located in a veritable botanical garden. The whole area was superbly kept, green trimmed grass, neat edging, flowers aplenty, and adequate spots where one might pause to contemplate the lives of those who had given their lives in service for their country.
It is only about 19 kilometres out of Port Moresby to the Bomana War Cemetery.
The date - January 1967, and I was making my first visit to Port Moresby. I had spent 4 weeks as a team member erecting a school at Ramaga, on the south side of Milne Bay. Marcia's aunt and uncle and family were living at the time in Port Moresby and looked after me for a long weekend at the end of my trip including a visit to the cemetery.
In a fully tropical setting the location is a picture, beautiful, quiet, and sobering given that the personnel buried here are countrymen.
"Simple wrought iron gates open on to a grass forecourt enclosed by a bank of colourful tropical shrubs and trees. From this forecourt a short flight of steps rises to the Stone of Remembrance, which is of pink freestone richly grained. Beyond this, on gently rising ground, lie the graves, marked by white marble headstones; and from a mound beyond the graves, and dominating them, rises the cross of Sacrifice, made of the same stone as the Stone of Remembrance. There are two grassed avenues of rain trees stretching from the front to the back of the cemetery, and between every few rows of graves are tropical shrubs and trees." (2) Such is the final resting place for nearly 4,000 servicemen from Australia and the United Kingdom.
Visitors to the Kokoda Track, where Australian soldiers turned back the Japanese forces heading for Port Moresby, often have the Bomana War Cemetery included in their itinerary, to complete their acknowledgment of the role of relatives and friends and countrymen in protecting freedom.
Years later (1993) I visited the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii where one finds a beautiful setting on a much larger scale. The road up the eastern side of the Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu provides a spectacular view out over the Waikiki area. At the top of the climb the road swings to the right and the vista of the "bowl" meets the eye with well manicured lawns and tree lined roadways conveying the eye to the imposing memorial at the southern end of the amphitheatre. Buried are United States servicemen and women (and some relatives) who died in the Pacific Theatre during the Second World War. Recorded on the walls are the names of service personnel missing in action or lost or buried at sea during this conflict.
I was moved by the magnitude of the cemetery and memorial and began to appreciate what the Bomana headstones and recorded names should mean to Australia.
A visitor's book is located at the National Memorial Cemetery for visitors to sign and register comments. Contemplating the vast number of stone tablets set into the grass each marking a grave site and the names recorded on the walls of the memorial I was tempted to record as my comment, "What a Waste". I restrained myself for fear of being misunderstood, of offending the caretakers of the site, or the relatives of those here interred. But to be honest, the site reflects a humongous waste, with lives cut short, and potential eliminated. Let me state the positive - each of these service personnel represented, names known or unknown, represent service to the full, a commitment to their country, and contribution to a cause that is to be admired. To view the expanse of the cemetery is, indeed, moving.
1. Life - Wasted
The site holds nearly 13,000 bodies of United States servicemen and women killed during World War 2 whose relatives did not request the return of their bodies to the continental United States. The site also holds the remains of another 800 unknown personnel who died fighting in Korea, and others whose relatives specifically requested that they be buried here.
The cemetery reflects only a small portion (18.7%) of those service personnel from the United States who died in war service during WW2 and an even smaller proportion of all those who were killed in the conflict.
Lives were snuffed out, some instantly, with the thud of the bullet to the chest, or the explosion of a bomb or mine; some lingering agonizingly for hours or days watching the end to their lives and not be able to do a thing about it. The bodies were once people with a spark of life passed down from their ancestral forefather formed from the dust of the ground by the Lord God who "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Gen 2:7). They planned to live life to the full using the God-given resources of love, laughter, action. But now the intentions, desires and hopes are at an end. Ambitions stalled, ideas no longer developed, relationships torn apart, hopes and aspirations dashed, the resource of life no longer available to a person, to a family, to a community and to the world. Love is separated by the grave and possibly by eternity.
What might they have done had they lived.
2. Money - Wasted
The money spent on war, defence so called, guns and related expendables is astonishingly huge. The major problem is that the dollar so directed is non-productive. Generally it is destructive. In the visitor's centre at the cemetery is a picture of a tank in World War 2 pushing through a once beautifully carved stone village "gate". The structure is pockmarked with bullet and missile holes. Portions of exquisite carved stonework now lie at the foot of the gate as just rubble. The tank is running over the culture of centuries with its tracks.
History and learning go up in smoke. The bomb blows up and its target disintegrates. The factory can no longer produce. The house is smashed to smithereens. Often the munitions do not work as required and are buried to work their destructive best, years into the future.
If the war dollar was turned into productive materials, tractors, bricks and mortar, schools, hospitals, and even computers, we could feed the starving 3rd world peoples, train them in good farm and business management and solve much of the economic woes of the world. Yet while proclaiming a message of peace and desiring harmony, the nations are echoing the words of Joel and doing the very reverse of what is needed, "Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all men of war draw near, let them come up: beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears". Joel 3:9 & 10
World War 1 was the war that was supposed to end all wars, then came World War 2, Korea and Vietnam, and successive skirmishes and localised wars, Sudan, Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Iran, and Iraq. The world is being torn apart, economies being ruined, it does not stop.
3. Ceremony - wasted
13,000 bodies "lie a-mouldering in the grave". Not one of them knows a thing about it. "The living know that they shall die but the dead know not anything" (Eccl 9:5) "His sons come to honour and he knoweth it not" (Job 14:21) "Neither have they a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun" (Eccl 9:6).
Visiting the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbour on another occasion I noted with interest the actions of our guide. In the chapel on the memorial the guide removed his hat and held it across his chest and walked respectfully, spoke in hushed tones and saluted each time he passed the doors. Activity at the National Memorial Cemetery was similar. We observed a military honour guard with perfect gear, equipment spotless and shiny, with special chrome plated helmets formed up to honour one soldier.
There is value in a service, a chance to formally say good by, the opportunity to remind relatives and friends of the achievements of the friend, the family member, to mark the contribution made to society however modest.
However, the time, money and devotion is all for nothing to the dead. Personally I would rather have my honour guard, have someone say nice words (no matter how few) to me now, than at a cemetery service 3 or 4 days after I have passed away. Once I have gone, a cheap wooden box will do, under the fruit trees in the back yard.
4. Opportunity - Wasted
13,000 bodies come as the result of another of the devil's schemes to remove from people the opportunity to know that there is something better than the tawdry offerings of today's world. The devil "as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet 5:8)
They have no longer a day to decide, no chance to make a choice, the die has been forever cast. The devil has come unexpectedly and stolen life. "And this know that if the good man of the house had known at what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not suffered his house to be broken through" (Luke 12:39)
No doubt some did know, some knew and put it off, some knew and could not have cared less. Others no doubt knew and were ready even though they had lost the war, they would be victors in the battle.
I shed a tear for what might have been, and for the fact that I cannot do anything for those interred and those remembered but whose resting place is known only to God. I thank God for life and for the day he has given each of us, and the promise of the sword and the spears one day being turned back into plowshares and pruninghooks, and for the promise of life unending.
I cannot thank those interred in these beautiful and memorable locations but I can take time to thank those who have returned and others who still serve. I can thank God for the promise of a new heaven and a new earth with "no more death, neither sorrow nor crying" and the personal confirmation that "these words are true and faithful" (Rev 21;4,5)
"Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard lest at any time we should let them slip" (Heb 2:1) Do not waste that life resource that God has given you.
(1) Rookwood Cemetery,
Accessed 19 April 2011
(2) Kokoda Treckers Forum
Accessed 30 November 2010
This article and the pictures it contains are Copyright © 2011 by John L Morris. Used by permission.
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