Eleven things you may not know about Remembrance Day

At 11am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Australia will remember.

As we tell the tales of those who lost their lives at war, we also remember the little-known stories of Remembrance Day and the Shrine of Remembrance – lest we forget.

1. Bending the light beam

Although the Shrine was carefully designed so that a natural ray of sunlight would fall on the word “love” on the Stone of Remembrance at 11am, Melbourne’s adoption of daylight savings in 1971/72 caused a slight problem: the light instead hit the stone at midday.

Two mirrors – one inclined and one horizontal – were installed to bend the beam of sunlight to achieve the desired light effect at 11am once more. The mirrors are set in their respective positions before the service each year.

2. Original builders’ graffiti

Contractors made an unexpected discovery when the construction of the Galleries of Remembrance $45 million project began in 2013.

Two small daubs of concrete were found on the brick foundation columns in the Shrine’s undercroft area. One of the tags was a concrete plaque with the date “Dec 6 1928” etched into the surface. The other was the profile of a small face, inscribed with the name “Lewis”.

While the graffiti was unable to be traced to anyone in particular, the two tags were thought to most likely have come from the returned servicemen who were the original builders of the Shrine.

Visitors can find the original graffiti in the Second World War Gallery of the Shrine.

3. On the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, at 11am

While the armistice that ended World War I was signed at 5am on November 11, 1918, the formal agreement did not take effect until six hours later. The fighting officially stopped along the Western Front at 11am.

4. Keeping the eternal flame going

Queen Elizabeth II lit the eternal flame at the dedication ceremony on February 28, 1954. The flame, which burns continuously, is meant to represent eternal life. the flame is kept burning through a permanent supply of gas.

5. When the fire died

The eternal flame has had a few hiccups since it was first lit in 1954.

A man used a fire extinguisher to douse the flames in 2011 and 2012. Vandals used beer to snuff out the flames in 2006. Periods of high winds and heavy rain have also been known to extinguish the eternal flame on occasion, including in the early 1990s during an Anzac Day service.

The Shrine and its surroundings are protected under the Shrine of Remembrance Act, which makes it an offence to extinguish the flame.

6. Coded messages

The Ode of Remembrance, the fourth stanza of Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen, is written on the metal wall panels of the Shrine’s student-entry courtyard in Morse code:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;

    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

    At the going down of the sun and in the morning

    We will remember them.

The ode was chosen because its reference to the youth of the soldiers was thought to be significant for students.

7. Anzac Square

The announcement of the Shrine design in 1922 and its location on St Kilda Road caused controversy and public debate.

The most popular alternative plan was to demolish the buildings opposite Parliament House to make way for a park, called ‘Anzac Square’.

But General Sir John Monash, a former commander of the Australian forces, used the 1927 Anzac Day march to garner support for the original Shrine plan. He won the Victorian government’s support later that year.

8. The secret entrance

A ‘secret’ loading dock is concealed under the lawn on the eastern slope of the Shrine.

The three-metre-wide door is covered with natural grass and opens up to be almost three metres high. It was built as part of the galleries project to be a dedicated service entry to the Shrine.

Large items can now be moved in and out of the Shrine for exhibitions – such as one of the Devanha landing boats – without disrupting the other entrances.

The loading dock leads to a storage area located below the Shrine’s undercroft.

9. Courtyard trenches

The zig-zagging walls of the entrance courtyard on the north-east side of the Shrine represent the trenches soldiers used to keep safe during World War I. The reddish-brown timber walls reflect the wooden support in the trenches and the muddy conditions.

10. From out of the shadows and into the light

The pavement of the Garden Courtyard on the north-west side of the Shrine consists of dark and light-coloured stones separated by a thin green line. The jagged line was designed to trace the edge of the shadows cast at 11am on November 11 each year.

The pattern and the stones symbolise moving out from the shadow of World War I and into the light.

11. Rosemary

Rosemary sprigs are sometimes worn in coat lapels on Remembrance Day. The herb was believed to help strengthen memory and was considered a symbol of remembrance in ancient times.

Rosemary also has special significance for Australians as it can be found growing wild on the slopes of the Gallipoli Peninsula.


This article originally appeared on The Age website, first published on 10 November 2014.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s