Dartmoor Avenue of Honour
Dartmoor Avenue of Honour
The Avenue of Honour

The Avenue of Honour was planted on Saturday 7 September 1918. The trees, Atlantic Cedars, commemorated 60 World War One servicemen and nurses from the Dartmoor District. The seedlings were planted simultaneously, and along roads from the main corner recognizing the direction from where the enlisted personnel or their relatives lived. Original names plates for the trees disappeared over time, so in 1994 a plaque listing the names and respective tree locations was placed on the wall of the Dartmoor District Memorial Hall.

The Passage of Time

Though the Avenue was planted with the concept of ‘perpetual memory’, trees are not eternal. In 1993 arborists identified many trees that were unhealthy and unsafe. The Dartmoor District Progress Association began a consultative process with relatives of the remembered veterans and local residents, with a view to having a section of the Avenue lopped and carved with suitable images and themes. [A similar vision had been made a reality at Lakes Entrance, Victoria.] Boards milled from the trees were to be kept for other public purposes: a carved timber memorial-mural, and picnic tables and benches.

The Artist at Work

By 1998 public and municipal acceptance of the scheme led to the commissioning of chainsaw-sculptor, Kevin Gilders to begin the carvings. Kevin was known and respected across Victoria for his public and private chainsaw artworks, and he took to the project with passion. Ideas for the carvings were proposed in public meetings and discussed with the artist – the final selections reflected: local veterans experiences in the war, images that would evoke emotion in a modern observer, and limitations imposed by the size and shape of the medium. Considerable research was done to ensure historical authenticity in the detail on the sculptures.

The Tree Carvings

Dartmoor Avenue of Honour
Dartmoor Avenue of Honour

From east to west:

  1. The Nurse: Nurses were beacons of hope and comfort for the wounded; two nurses are remembered in the Avenue. This tree was planted for Sister Rachel Pratt, who famously won a Military Medal for ‘gallantry under fire’. The medal is displayed at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
  2. Sad News: It was the practice for telegrams notifying families of a death to be addressed to the local clergymen so they could break the desolate news. Sadly, some district mothers received such news more than once.
  3. The Boy at War: Early in the war, recruits had to be at least 5foot 6 inches tall, have a chest expansion of 34 inches, and be aged 19-38 years. It was common for young men…boys…to put up their age to go to war.
  4. At Arms: Australian soldiers were respected for their courage and hardiness by friend and foe alike. They typically had a larrikin spirit and a casual approach to drill and discipline. But they had a undeniable bond of respect for each other, and nothing was worse than losing ‘a mate’.
  5. Three Services: Local men from the area served in all three services: army, navy and the fledgling airforce. The duties performed ranged from Doctor to Stoker, Cyclist to Pilot, Farrier to Gunner, Rail-ganger to Stretcher -bearer… All their lives and wartime experiences are detailed in a local history book published by the Dartmoor District Museum.
  6. Over The Top: Anzac Day commemorates the anniversary of the ill-fated attack at Gallipoli. This tree was planted for a ‘True Anzac’ – Private 862 Sydney Smith. He enlisted within 3 weeks of war being declared in August 1914, sailed with the first convoy of troops in November, and was killed at Gallipoli on the ‘first Anzac Day’ - 25 April 1915.
  7. Rest In Peace: Of the 60 personnel remembered in the Avenue, 18 paid the ultimate sacrifice. Makeshift graves were common; other have no known resting place.
  8. Parting: The reasons why men enlisted in the Great War, to fight far from this serene district, are varied; some believed in the patriotic cause, others merely sought adventure. Some men were farewelled by a wife and children, others were held their parents, for perhaps the last time.
  9. The Game: Recreation behind the frontline was critical to the morale of Anzac Diggers – one popular betting-game was ‘Two-Up’. The phrase ‘The Game’ was also the soldiers’ euphemism for ‘The War’, and just as luck determined a win at ‘Two-Up’ so did it often determine survival on the battlefield.

The Streetscape Project

Dartmoor Avenue of Honour
Dartmoor Avenue of Honour

The tree carvings are one part of the project that has reshaped the main street of Dartmoor. Associated works during 2002 of kerbing, landscaping, public amenities and lighting revitalized the precinct. Funding and labour for the program came from Federal, State and Local Government Departments, and the district Community. The co-operative venture has resulted in a streetscape that enhances the environment and pays tribute to community service. Lest We Forget!