One hundred years ago, groups of grieving families stood along roadsides planting memorials to their young men who lost their lives during the bloody conflicts of World War I.
A century later their descendants and those who honour the sacrifice those early soldiers made will again gather to remember those young men as many of the Avenues of Honour around the district mark 100 years since they were planted.
Two of the region’s most significant memorials, the 281 Canadian Elm trees that make up the Bacchus Marsh Avenue of Honour, and Kingston’s avenue of 261 Dutch Elms, were planted on August 10, 1918.
Ballarat MP Catherine King planted a tree at Kingston on Friday to mark the anniversary and honour the horses of World War I, and a formal centenary celebration of the avenue will take place on November 11 – the centenary of the end of World War I.
The Bacchus Marsh Avenue of Honour will be closed to traffic on Saturday for a ceremony to mark the centenary of its planting.
Bacchus Marsh RSL president Cherrison Lawton said a ceremony would be held at the eastern end of the avenue before members of the Creswick Light Horse and an Australian Army Bushmaster will represent the service men and women of the past 100 years during a march along the avenue to the RSL. Knitted wreaths will also be laid at each memorial tree during the march.
Ms Lawton said in researching the history of the avenue and the soldiers named along it, it was discovered that although there are 281 names on trees there were actually about 465 service men and women who died in WWI from the area.
And it was also discovered that one man named actually died on the day the avenue was being planted, but his family would not have found out about his death until weeks later.
“We made the promise ‘we will remember them’ and this memorial is part of that promise,” Ms Lawton said.
World War I historian Gary Snowden said avenues of honour held special significance to communities, but many smaller avenues had been forgotten over time.
“I wasn’t around 100 years ago when they were being created but clearly the community were heavily impacted by war and the loss of so many young men that communities felt the need to in some way recognise or commemorate the service they had given.
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“The notion of a living memorial perhaps in a sense was something akin to seeing the spirit of these people living on.”
Dozens of avenues ranging in size from a handful of trees to the 759 in Ballarat’s Avenue of Honour were planted throughout the district during and after World War I.
“There are a lot that have been lost. In some instances they might have been planted by one or two families or a small group, then over time as those people passed or moved from the district the baton was not taken up by others and the avenue gradually deteriorated and their stories were lost.”
Others, including Ross Creek, have received grants to renew and rededicate their avenues after decades of neglect. On August 18 the small Avenue of Honour in Ross Creek, along the Sebastopol-Smythesdale Road, will celebrate its centenary with a ceremony after works to replant and renew its oak trees and research in to the soldiers memorialised in the avenue.