Every town has one.
Every city and country town in Australia has a war memorial; they are different but they share a common purpose. The erecting and unveiling of these memorials was an occasion for communal mourning and expressing patriotism. Many people accepted that it was their duty to memorialise the dead, some thought of them as “substitute graves” for soldiers who were buried overseas or could not be located.
Many were built in a prominent part of town, a symbolic place where everyone can gather to remember the men and women, family relatives who served in the wars. Yamba’s cenotaph erected soon after WWI lost its prominence in the main street when it was moved from the corner of Yamba and Wooli Streets in 1946. This enabled Tom Quinn the local bus proprietor to build his depot behind his house at the corner of Yamba and Harbour Streets.
The cenotaph was then relocated to its current position on the hill in Queen Street overlooking Main Beach. At the time other marble plaques were added listing the names of men who served in WWII.
At the foot of the Cenotaph a concrete tablet was also placed with the imprints of Stanley McDermid’s hands and feet and the words “THEY DIED THAT THESE MAY LIVE”. Stanley was the only son of Keith McDermid who was killed at Buna.
Other marble plaques have been added to the Cenotaph to honour those who served in Korea, South East Asia and Vietnam.
In addition, on display at the museum is another marble plaque engraved with the names of the five Yamba men who were killed in WWII: W. Black, R. Brown, J Klaus, K McDermid, and J McNabb. Yamba Public School pupils on their own initiative raised the funding for this plaque. It was unveiled at the school by local member Sir Earle Page, during the Empire Day Celebrations on May 24, 1946.
While our war memorials appear to be invisible in between commemorations they are still regarded as sacred places. Remembrance has changed over the past decades and profoundly separate us from when WWI was first remembered. But when the war has passed out of living memory, the cenotaphs and rituals created 100 years ago can help us to explore the ways that it was understood at the time.