War Memorials in Australia
R.A.A.F. Memorial Grove
Majura, Australian Capital Territory, 2609
District: Southern Tablelands (ACT)
Orientation: District of Canberra
Location: Federal Highway, adjacent to Hughie Edwards VC Rest Area
Position: 35 12 74 S 149 11 41 E
Access to the memorial is from the southbound carriageway of the Federal Highway. Crossing the border with New South Wales, take the exit to Queanbeyan and pull up in the Hughie Edwards VC Rest Area. The Federal Highway may be rejoined by way of a slip road.
There are a number of memorials in the grove which is adjacent to the Hughie Edwards VC Rest Area. Some, aligned along an encircling pathway, are plaques attached to stone plinths remembering various RAAF units that have a connection with Canberra. The main memorial, placed in the centre of the grove, is a Gosford sandstone plinth surmounted by a metal cross.
At the commencement of the path are two polished black granite blocks that were originally part of the Royal Australian Air Force Memorial in Anzac Parade. They were relocated here when that memorial was refurbished in 2002.
The following information has been kindly provided by Arthur Skimin on behalf of the Royal Australian Air Force Association, Canberra Division:
' In 1952, five sites on the Federal Highway near Canberra were selected by the Canberra Remembrance Driveway Auxiliary, comprising community and ex-service organisations, to be part of the proposed Remembrance Driveway from Sydney to Canberra. Three sites near the junction with Majura Road were assigned for the Army, Navy and Air Force. These were agreed by the Federal Government of the day and the leases assigned. Work began early on the Air Force site. The army site was to follow later and the Navy site has yet to be developed.
The site selected for the RAAF Memorial Grove was little more than a typical Australian roadside scrub patch - long grass, straggly bushes and gum trees. Original plantings in the Remembrance Driveway sites in the ACT sought to reflect a concept originally developed by Charles Weston, for many years Canberra's Chief Afforestation Officer. Weston's concept provided a "mix" of deciduous and evergreen plantings, including pines. This is reflected in the planting scheme in the Memorial Grove. Pines surrounding the Grove, with its internal deciduous plantings, aim to perpetuate the memory of those who have paid the supreme sacrifice. Cypress pines have long been recognised in Western society as a symbol of death and immortality. The deciduous trees, bursting into life annually, were intended to serve as a subtle reminder of the object for which the trees were planted.
By the early 1960s enthusiasm had waned and the then ACT Branch of the Air Force Association decided on a rescue mission. Plans were made to develop the Grove into a fitting memorial to Air Force personnel who served and particularly those who paid the supreme sacrifice. A small sandstone cairn was to become the centrepiece. Volunteers cleared by hand the surrounding land and replanted trees. A sandstone obelisk, several metres high, surmounted with a metal cross became the next objective. But interest waned. The ACT Branch was struggling to stay alive. The grove was disappearing under the encroaching bushland. The stone cairn, hidden in long grass, was all that remained.
In 1974 the late Harold "Buster" Stenborg, a navigator who served with the RAAF in Europe, was elected President and vowed to liven up the flagging interest in the Branch. Re-elected in 1975 "Buster" declared that the development of the RAAF Memorial Grove would be the Branch's "target" for the year. His purpose was two-fold. He wanted to bring the Grove up to the size and standard originally envisaged and he needed a project that would provide members with a catalyst around which interest and enthusiasm in the Branch would grow. Weekend after weekend members laboured. Many a Saturday's and Sunday's work became a family and Branch barbecue or picnic, making light of the work and boosting the Branch "camaraderie" which "Buster" was seeking. Time passed and "Buster" appeared to be reaching his objective.
But late in 1977 momentum again faltered. Meetings and social functions were hardly worth holding. The Memorial project was left in the hands of a few. Then late in 1978 there was a revival of interest in the Branch and work resumed in earnest on the Grove. The obelisk in its final form was to become a reality. With funding assistance from the RAAF Association a supply of Gosford sandstone was obtained to complete the Memorial Cairn, but this was to be a struggle on a harsh bush site without water. An ex-RAAF member tradesman stonemason George Kerridge dedicated his time and skills voluntarily to design the obelisk and to bring out the qualities of the sandstone. He could not count the number of wire coat hangers cut and shaped to provide corner ties for the stone. There must have been a lot of clothing lying on floors around Canberra at the time!
Water, cement, aggregate and other items were transported by RAAF veterans by private cars. Not much was carted away, least of all the cans and stubbies that accumulated. They were to form part of the foundations and also fill the hollow inside the obelisk. They tell the story of many a thirst worked up by volunteers, most of whom sat at desks five days a week.
Two bottles inside the obelisk contain a record of the construction - a lay person's time capsule. One contains the names of all those who laboured so hard to bring the project to fruition, the other holds the names of Stenborg and Kerridge. They were the last two to work on the obelisk and put their own "time capsule" inside before the top was sealed and the job considered finished as far as the base was concerned. To complete the task, an aluminium cross was later erected on top using a helicopter and with assistance of air force personnel from RAAF Base Fairbairn.
On Sunday 20 July 1980, hosted by the new President the late Ron Hayes MBE, members and many guests gathered at the Memorial for its dedication. The RAAF provided a firing squad, cadets from the then 15 Flight Air Training Corps (now Air Force Cadets) formed a Guard of Honour and a bugler sounded the Last Post and Rouse. "Buster" Sternborg was a proud man that day as he observed the results of the commitment and determination of many RAAF veterans and how the Branch gathered in strength for the Dedication. He had achieved his objectives.
Veterans maintained the Grove willingly in their spare time but, as is often the case in these circumstances, the work is left to a few by the many. One member, Colin Fereday OAM, a WWII Coastal Command Pilot, later to become President, worked hard as "guardian" of the Grove. His negotiations resulted in the Department of the Interior, then responsible for the National Capital, taking over some of the maintenance of the Grove, thus taking the burden from tireless volunteers.
Shortly after the dedication the Federal Highway approaching Canberra was upgraded but in the process the entrance to the Grove was cut off. In addition, earthworks from the roadworks literally hid the Grove from view. Headed by the indomitable Colin Fereday the Branch committee successfully negotiated with the then National Capital Development Commission to obtain an alternative entrance off Majura Road. There was little to indicate the location of the Memorial until the Commission was convinced to provide a signpost in Majura Road reading "RAAF Memorial Grove". However, and sadly, despite the significance of the site in the Remembrance Driveway and the amount of labour that went into its construction, the Memorial was, up until recently, not readily identifiable to Federal Highway travellers or visitors to the ACT.
Apart from Colin Fereday's regular visits to nurture struggling trees and to encourage the ACT Government's Department of Urban Services to undertake minor periodic maintenance, nothing much happened with the Grove. It literally stagnated as a Memorial for nearly ten years. The only event of significance in this period was the planting of three eucalyptus trees by Air Marshal David Evans, Chairman of the National Capital Authority and former Chief of Air Staff on 23 March 1991 to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the formation of the RAAF.
The Grove became topical again when in preparation for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, the Federal Highway into Canberra was upgraded. Two supervising engineers from the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, one an ex-Australian Army engineering apprentice, saw the obelisk and, realising its importance, contacted the RAAF Association. A new access road and other works incorporated the Memorial Grove into the new highway environment. Suddenly it had a new lease of life and a secure future.
The RAAF Association now had a well-maintained memorial site, visible to the public from the Federal Highway but still it did not attract visitors. The significance of the memorial was not clearly evident and as a rest stop it lacked essential facilities. This would be the next step in the campaign to even further improve the Grove. Colin Fereday's lone "guardianship" of the Memorial Grove, but not his enthusiasm, came to an end when Arthur Skimin, a recently retired RAAF Group Captain engineer, joined him. A "team" bond quickly developed between the two; this relationship was likened by many to the "master and the apprentice".
Developments were coming thick and fast. In addition to landscaping and tree planting, adding to the Grove's appearance, the Remembrance Driveway Committee announced that a site adjacent to the Grove would be developed as a permanent Memorial Park to honour Hughie Edwards VC, an Australian airman and Acting Wing Commander of 105 Squadron RAF during World War II. The RAAF Association - ACT Division was deeply honoured to be associated with a memorial to such a gallant airman and leader. On 2 September 2000 the Edwards VC Memorial Park was officially opened. The landscaped area, trees, picnic tables and other rest facilities complemented the Memorial Grove which was being constantly improved with pathways, flag poles and low ornamental walls along which plaques would be placed by RAAF units which had been or were based in Canberra. These plaques would provide a historical record of the RAAF's association with the national capital and its people.
The ACT Government Department of Urban Services have taken a new interest in the development and maintenance of the Memorial Grove. This has been reflected in the response to the RAAF Association's proposal to improve public amenities and protect the environment. Local community service groups such as Belconnen Lions Club also provide regular maintenance support for the public facilities. More recently the Canberra International Air Group have joined forces, providing substantial development and maintenance support.
Development of the Memorial Grove has now become one of the core activities of the ACT Division of the RAAF Association and in keeping with its charter of preserving the memory of those who died on service. Hardly a week goes by without a new project being put forward by interested organisations. With the aim of improving the significance of the Grove for both veterans and the general public, ActewAGL in concert with the ACT Government is considering a proposal to provide floodlighting to the cross that sits atop the memorial cairn. If achieved this will provide a unique night-time focus to the Memorial Grove.
Plaques already installed are RAAF Staff College, Engineering Apprentices Scheme, 4/5 Squadrons School of Army Co-Operation, No. 36 Squadron and the RAAF Base Fairbairn itself, all recording their time in the national capital. Proposals for plaques have been received from RAAF Nurses, the WAAF Association, No. 9 Helicopter Squadron, Army Helicopter School and No. 30 Squadron. No. 7 Radio Apprentices Course has proposed a seat with suitable inscription to acknowledge the RAAF Radio Engineering Apprentice Scheme. The Royal Netherlands Embassy is liaising with Netherlands war veterans with a view to installing a plaque to commemorate the NEI 18 Squadron's stay in Canberra prior to flying north in World War II in defence of Australia from invasion by the Japanese. A unique request has come from the ACT Polish Ex-Service Association which wishes to donate a plaque to honour Australian airmen who flew the hazardous route from Brindisi, Italy, to drop supplies to resistance fighters in Warsaw in 1944 during the heroic uprising against the occupying German forces.
The Grove will be extended and linked with a walking track to the Returned and Services League (RSL) Grove further along the Federal Highway toward the ACT/NSW border. A preliminary design brief is being prepared ready for the proposal to be formally presented to the National Capital Authority and the ACT Government for approval. Professor Ken Taylor, Acting Head, Landscape and Design, University of Canberra has been briefed on the proposed RSL Grove and walking track by Alan Paget, Landscape Architect at the University. Paget sees substantial teaching value in the project which he is developing to a level where it can be effectively integrated into the appropriate elements of the student study program. He will also develop student briefs to define and scope the project. It is envisaged that student groups will be formed and allocated various tasks in developing the final brief, costings and associated tasks. It is proposed that the winning group will brief the National Capital Authority and the ACT Government on its concept and costs.
Also involved, but not yet fully defined, is the prospect of the Naval Association assuming the "sponsor" role for the uncommitted Remembrance Driveway site between the RAAF Memorial Grove and the RSL Grove making a trio of living memorials to the Services on the highway.
From its humble beginnings as a scrubby patch of ground with a stone cairn the RAAF Memorial Grove is now a prominent testimonial to those who served and those who died as well as being a historical record of the RAAF's strong link with the national capital and the people of Canberra. Despite neglect, apathy and lack of initiative and, at one stage, almost reverting to its original piece of roadside bush, the RAAF Memorial Grove is now fulfilling its role as a fitting memorial and has become the focus of RAAF veterans' reunions and commemorative services.'
Two polished black granite blocks at commencement of path
North face of east block
Insignia of RAAF
North face of west block
THIS PLAQUE HONOURS THE MEN OF THE AUSTRALIAN FLYING
CORPS AND THE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR
FORCE. IT HONOURS THOSE AMONG THEM THAT MADE THE ULTIMATE
SACRIFICE FOR THEIR COUNTRY.
THE ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE MOTTO
Per ardua ad astra
"Through adversity to the stars"
EXEMPLIFIES THE LEGACY OF THEIR SERVICE AND GUIDES THOSE
WHO FOLLOW. THEY SHALL NOT BE FOUND WANTING.
ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE ASSOCIATION
Plinths along pathway, reading
from entrance to Grove
Pink marble plinth
Series of black marble tablets
on stone and cement plinths
R.A.A.F Engineering Apprentice Scheme Memorial Plaque
RAAF Base Fairbairn Memorial
Royal Australian Air Force Staff
College Memorial Plaque
School of Army Co-operation Memorial Plaque
Marble tablet inset in north face
Insignia of Air Force Association Canberra Branch
We Remember Them
Note: The Grove was re-dedicated on 22 February 2003 and two new plaques were dedicated. This page will be updated soon. In the meantime the Order of Ceremony and images of the proceedings are available here.
Other image(s) - Click for larger view
At entrance to Grove Pathway and unit plaques
Information current to December 2002
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