House debates

Monday, 18 November 2013


Australian War Memorial

9:05 pm

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to make comments on the proposal to take a chisel to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider just down the road from here to obliterate the words 'Known Unto God' and replace them with some other words by ex-Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating.

This proposal, if allowed to be undertaken, would be an act of vandalism. The words 'Known unto God' are the words that Rudyard Kipling advised the Imperial War Graves Commission to adopt in 1917 to mark the graves of soldiers whose remains could not be identified. That includes 23,000 Australians and over 212,000 Commonwealth soldiers whose remains could not be identified from the First World War.

Who more appropriate than the great Rudyard Kipling to have penned these words? Prior to the war, Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907, becoming the first English-language recipient. The Nobel prize citation said:

… in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author.

It was Rudyard Kipling who wrote the immortal poem If which includes the words which will live through the centuries.

IF you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

…   …   …

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same

Foremost, Kipling knew firsthand the experience and the emotions of those who were lost in war during that time, those whose bodies were never discovered.

Kipling's only son, John, was posted to the Western Front just before his 18th birthday. He was reported wounded and missing six weeks later in his first action, the Battle of Loos, on 27 September 1915. He was last seen stumbling blindly through the mud, screaming in agony after an exploding shell ripped his face apart. When Rudyard Kipling learnt the news, he was said to have cried a 'curse like the cry of a dying man'. He then embarked on a long campaign to find his only son, hoping for a miracle that he was still alive. It was only in 1919 that Kipling finally accepted that his only son had perished in the war. Kipling then focused his energies on commemorating all those who had fallen in the Great War and he joined the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and put his skills to the task to determine what words should be chosen for those tombstones. That is how the words 'Known unto God' were chosen.

One can only ask what those whom we entrusted with the responsibility to protect our War Memorial were thinking when they came up with this proposal? The words carved into the Tomb of the Unknown Solider are not an item of fashion, not something that gets changed. No-one has the right to change these words because they believe that they have found something better, more fashionable or more politically correct. To take a chisel and obliterate the words 'Known unto God', for whatever reason, is worse that an act of vandalism. To attempt to replace these words with something that is seen as more politically correct is an act of desecration, a defiling of a national sacred monument. Thankfully, we have men of substance such as Senator Ronaldson and our Prime Minister, who were also appalled at this proposal and were prepared to stand up and prevent this desecration from occurring.