Honouring Our Fallen: The unwavering commitment of the Office of Australian War Graves

The graves of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice can be found in beautiful cemeteries across Australia. 

Behind the scenes, there is a team of dedicated individuals who work tirelessly to ensure that the memory of the fallen lives on. The Office of Australian War Graves (OAWG), a division of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, is responsible for the care and maintenance of these war graves.

Tim Bayliss AM, Director of Australian War Graves, has a personal connection to Australia’s military history, with multiple generations of his family having served in the military. 

‘I’m a veteran as well as being the son and grandson of veterans,’ he says. ‘My father and grandfather are officially commemorated at the New South Wales Garden of Remembrance. While I have a deep connection to the cause, everyone in the team, whether they are a veteran or not, takes great pride in what they do.’

With a strong sense of duty, the OAWG team ensures that war graves are cared for in almost every general cemetery across the country. 

‘Not every nation does what we Australians do in this regard, and I believe it speaks volumes for our national character that we care deeply about honouring our fallen, even long after they have fallen,’ adds Tim.

The OAWG is responsible for the care of 76 Commonwealth War Graves Commission war cemeteries and war plots throughout Australia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. They also oversee the official commemoration of more than 330,000 Australian service personnel from all wars and conflicts who died during or as a result of their war service, in more than 2,400 sites across Australia. 

Managing and maintaining Australia’s war graves comes with its fair share of challenges. Extreme weather conditions, such as heatwaves and torrential rain, pose threats to the sites. 

In the face of emerging threats, the OAWG has embraced environmental sustainability and a future-focused approach. By investing in new technologies, they aim to protect the sites from the effects of climate change. 

‘We remain ever vigilant to protect our sites from these threats’, explains Tim. ‘It is also a reminder of our responsibility in regards to sustainability as we utilise more renewable energy sources, employ water-saving technologies, recycle materials, and investigate robotic technologies.’

The physical challenge of distance is another obstacle faced by the OAWG given that war graves are located across the nation and offshore in countries like Papua New Guinea. 

‘It’s a huge task that requires a significant amount of resources, but we are determined to make do with what we have and honour those who sacrificed for the nation and their families,’ says Tim.

The dedication of the OAWG is a testament to the enduring gratitude and respect that Australians hold for those who have died serving their nation. It is a solemn duty, but one that they carry out with pride.