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How does the Australian Defence Force say goodbye?

Tue 9th Mar 2021

During ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day services, Australian's are given the opportunity to reflect on and memorialise the brave men and women who have fought in service of the nation in the Australian Defence Force (ADF). On an individual scale, however, the families of the deceased and each branch of the military implement special elements of the funerals of their fallen servicemen and women that reflect on their lives and contribution. Learning about these special send-offs, recognising them and finding ways to pay tribute in your own way is a meaningful way to remember those who have fought and defended Australia, both domestically and internationally.

State Funerals

State funerals are held for members of the community who had a significant contribution to their country, at both a state and Federal level. Former senior officers of the ADF or high-level politicians with military records are offered a federal military state funeral in the event of their passing. The Unknown Soldier and the last of Australia's WW1 veterans were also offered commonwealth state funerals. Military state funerals often contain guards of honour, guests of honour including current prominent Prime Ministers and other politicians and gun salutes, where current servicemen and women fire rifles or other firearms into the sky in honour of the fallen. According to the Australian War Memorial, the famous 21-gun salute is reserved for royalty and heads of state, with a scaled down version for subsequent rankings - 19 guns for field marshals and state officials, 17 for generals and the equivalent, all the way down to 11 guns for a brigadier. For a soldier below the rank of brigadier, three rifle volleys are fired in unison, three times in a row. When Private Timothy Alpin passed away in a helicopter crash while deployed in Afghanistan in 2010, he was given a funeral with full military honours, attended by the current serving Prime Minister and the Opposition Minister, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. His funeral, held at St John's Cathedral on Ann Street, Brisbane, involved a guard of honour from the boys from his previous high school and a gun salute to the fallen hero.

Official Commemoration

Eligible members of the military receive an official commemoration on the event of their death. An official commemoration is a special memorial, provided by the Office of Australia War Graves (OAWG), where the initials, surname, service number, rank, unit, age, date of passing and service badge are immortalised in bronze. Members of the ADF who died whilst in service, a veteran whose death is officially accepted as being due to service, a veteran who receives specific pensions at the time of their death, a veteran who is a multiple amputee as defined in the Veterans' Entitlement Act 1986, an ex-prisoner of war or Victoria Cross recipients are all eligible for Official Commemorations.In this particular content, service, war and conflict are defined as service in a World War or Operational, Peacekeeping, 'Warlike' or 'Non-Warlike' service after World War II.  An official commemoration takes place either at a cemetary, place of cremation or in an official Garden of Remembrance. The OAWG will provide the official bronze plaque, full monument, placement of ashes, headstone or headstone base, as well as maintenance, depending on the location of the Official Commemoration. This can take from three to six months to be completed. The plaques and headstones are designed and constructed in a uniform style in order to best display the equality and uniformity of the commemorations - all veterans are considered equal, regardless of rank, creed, civil or military status. These commemorations have a tenure of 25-50 years, whereby the lease either needs to be renewed or the maintenance responsibilities will be transferred to the family, excluding all Gardens of Remembrance, where the tenure is held outright or paid by the OAWG.

Poppy Service

Any person who has served in the ADF can have a poppy service included as part of their funeral, should their family decide to do so. Poppy services are provided by sub-branch volunteers from the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) in some states in Australia to recognise and commemorate the life and service of veterans from all walks of life. A poppy service is an addition to a traditional funeral, where a eulogy is read by a member of the RSL where they detail the person's military service record, followed by the reciting of The Ode, the playing of The Last Post and Rouse and finally the provision of poppies for the funeral attendees, who place them on the coffin. A moment's silence is also usually observed during the proceedings as a sign of respect. A poppy service is an excellent way of including a significant and exemplary part of the deceased's life into their final goodbyes.

Personal Touches

For a more low-key representation of a person's service as part of their life, many families choose to include nods to the person's brave service in smaller ways. Some opt for a simple Australian Flag to adorn the coffin to symbolise the person's dedication to their country. Some ask fellow veterans or servicemen or women to serve as pallbearers, to show unity and mateship with their fellow service members for the final time. Poppies, the flower symbol for the ANZAC, are also commonly used as a small symbol of their service. Finally, service badges, medals or other tokens of remembrance such as parts of their uniform or photographs can be prominently displayed at the funeral or worn by their loved ones as a mark of respect and remembrance. The RSL provides helpful information on Australian Flag purchase and protocol, medal and badge use, how to access service records and other specific information on conducting an RSL funeral service.

Veteran Funeral Benefits

The Australian Government's Department of Veterans' Affairs offers the eligible families of deceased veterans and fallen servicemen compensation for their loved one's funeral. The Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 outlines the eligibility criteria of those who apply for the award. When granted, the award is paid out to the person who made the claim or directly to the person or company conducting the funeral as a final thank you from the people of Australia to the veteran for their brave service.

By Claudia Slack

Sources:

  • https://barecremation.com.au/how-to-plan-a-veterans-funeral/
  • https://www.dva.gov.au/recognition/commemorating-all-who-served/commemorate-our-war-dead/commemorating-our-post-war-dead
  • https://www.dva.gov.au/recognition/commemorating-all-who-served/gardens-and-cemeteries/gardens-remembrance
  • https://www.cremationsonly.com.au/how-to-make-a-veterans-funeral-special/
  • https://mccartneyfunerals.com.au/2019/04/28/what-is-a-poppy-service-and-who-can-have-one/
  • https://rslqld.org/find-help/poppy-services
  • https://www.funeralguide.net/blog/australian-state-funerals
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_funeral#Australia