Forgotten victims of World War One lying in unmarked graves

As Australia marks Anzac Day, many of those who fought in what is known as the Great War, World War One, are forgotten and buried in unmarked graves around the country.


A federal government promise to honour veterans who survived the war but died within a few years of returning to Australia was broken.

In one Queensland rural cemetery, there are thought to be at least a dozen such soldiers.

Dawn breaks over the rambling cemetery in Longreach, central-western Queensland, and yet another year passes for Australia’s forgotten war dead.

This is the last resting place of Gallipoli veteran Private Leo Daniel Dyball.

There is a sandstone edging but no headstone, no name, on his grave.

Gassed on the battlefields of France in the First World War, Private Dyball died three months after returning home in 1918.

Local historian Kaye Kuhn has spent four years researching the soldiers of the unmarked graves in Longreach.

“The dead don’t die until they’re forgotten. Well, these guys well and truly died, and they’ve been well and truly forgotten for so long. So let’s start to remember them.”

Across the cemetery are more unmarked graves.

Most are just a pile of rocks identifiable as a grave because of a rusty iron peg.

It troubles Kaye Kuhn.

“World War One is just so quiet. There’s just no recognition. They didn’t want the recognition back then, and I guess that’s how it goes. Whereas, the World War Two guys, because of the Anzac parades and there’s been more hype about it after that, their service has been acknowledged.”

Private James Patrick Clancey served in France, and his obituary in the local paper in 1923 said he died of the “effects of having been gassed whilst on active service.”

The grave peg is simply marked “C” for Catholic, plot number “505.”

Kaye Kuhn says it was a common end.

“We’ve got about 628 unmarked graves, and, of those, there’d be a couple of dozen World War One veterans.”

Across Australia, in rural graveyards, it is a similar story.

And there is also a broken promise.

After the so-called Great War, the Australian government promised ex-soldiers would receive headstones.

They did not, and the RSL back then accused the government of what it called “sordid” and “callous” indifference to the grave issue.

Today, Stewart Cameron is president of the Queensland Returned Services League.

“If we went back to the 1920s, and I was in the position I am in now, I would be probably very frustrated, because the government of the day wasn’t actually doing a lot. Well, that’s fine. Let’s move forward to today. Let’s do something.”

Some soldiers do have official graves.

The Office of Australian War Graves says memorials can still be requested from the Department of Veterans Affairs if there is enough evidence.

Stewart Cameron says the RSL now will set things right in Longreach.

“One of the requirements of the League is, where we become aware of unmarked graves of those men and women who have served their country, we have an obligation to make sure that those graves are marked accordingly.”