Brisbane General Cemetery Portion 10: Soldier’s Reservation
- Greater Brisbane
304 Birdwood Terrace, Toowong 4066
Toowong Cemetery opened in 1871 replacing the Milton/Paddington Cemetery (now the Lang Park site) that had, in turn, earlier replaced Brisbane’s first cemetery, the Moreton Bay Penal Cemetery located near Skew Street in the City. Toowong Cemetery’s Portion 10 developed into a military graves section. During the 1920-30s, ex-servicemen who came home but subsequently died from World War One-related injuries or illnesses, were given Commonwealth Government headstones at Portion 10.
In the early part of World War II, from March 1940 to December 1942, the graves of 79 servicemen who died while on active service in Brisbane were placed at Toowong. As Portion 10 drew close to capacity, military burials were shifted to Lutwyche Cemetery at the start of 1943. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has, so far, identified 379 Graves of war-related casualties scattered throughout Toowong Cemetery. Of these, over 100 are World War II casualties with the majority of these graves located in Portion 10.
After World War I, some returned servicemen who had died due to the lingering effects of wounds, gas attack or the 1918-19 'Spanish Flu' Pandemic were interred in Portion 10 of Toowong Cemetery. This was not a designated War Graves Section as it already contained a few civilian graves. But during the 1920s, as Portion 10 began to fill with military headstones it became known as the Soldiers Corner. Chaplain Lieutenant-Colonel David John Garland inaugurated an ANZAC Day service at the cemetery in 1920. He saw a small crowd placing flowers on soldiers’ graves and gathered them around him to conduct a simple service. He was instrumental in raising the funds for the construction of the Cross of Sacrifice and Stone of Remembrance that were unveiled on ANZAC Day, 1924. The area set apart for military graves within Portion 10 was extended in 1934. Canon Garland led the ANZAC Day service annually until 1938 (he died in 1939). He started the custom of conducting ANZAC Day services in Brisbane cemeteries. The Toowong services continued after Garland’s death but were later moved to Toowong Memorial Park off Sylvan Road.
On 3 September 1939, two days after Germany invaded Poland, Britain declared war and Australia gave its immediate support. Brisbane became a garrison city with its main role to recruit and then provide basic training to men and women who enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the Army (2nd Australian Imperial Force - the AIF, or the Australian Military Force - the militia) or the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The first Brisbane-based serviceman to be buried at Toowong was Private Charles Douglas Nash. He died on 3 March 1940 while serving with the militia’s 1st Garrison Battalion. He was one of four such burials during 1940. There were nine burials during 1941, including the first RAAF grave that was for Leading Aircraftsman George James Manson who died on 4 March 1941.
With the outbreak of the Pacific War on 8 December 1941, Brisbane’s role soon changed. The arrival at New Farm of the first US troops sent to Australia on 22 December 1941 was the beginning of using Brisbane as an Allied forward base. When General MacArthur transferred the headquarters of his South-West Pacific Area command from Melbourne to Brisbane on 23 July 1942, Brisbane became a major strategic planning and supply base. As large numbers of troops poured into Brisbane, the number of military burials at Toowong increased. No Americans were buried at Toowong. A US War Graves Section was created at Lutwyche Cemetery, before all US graves were transferred to Ipswich in June 1942.
Another 66 graves were added to Portion 10 in 1942. Among the burials was Private Edward Sidney Webster (2/2nd Anti-Tank Regiment), the only fatality from the infamous “Battle of Brisbane". He died on 26 November 1942. The three RAN sailors who were killed in the 'Tamar Incident' (Moreton Bay, 4 March 1942) are also buried in Portion 10. Able Seaman Archibald Edward Bartsch and Warrant Officer Henry Theeman died on that day. Able Seaman Eric Ross Harrison died of wounds the next day at the new Greenslopes Military Hospital. All were members of the RAN Volunteer Reserve (RANVR). To cover-up this incident, the RAN buried the sailors almost immediately. Harrison’s mother did not receive official notification of her son’s death until after his funeral. Having previously lost two sons in World War I, Mrs. Harrison was so incensed at Eric’s death that she refused a Commonwealth headstone. Instead, she paid to have a private headstone placed at his gravesite.
With 79 graves added to Portion 10 due to World War II fatalities, the Brisbane City Council’s Health Committee declared that Portion 10 was nearly full. On 28 November 1942, the Council announced that military burials would cease at Toowong and that a new, official Commonwealth War Graves Section would be opened at Lutwyche Cemetery situated off Gympie Road. The Council stressed that since 1915, a total of 1,836 soldiers had already been buried at Toowong Cemetery. Most of these graves are located in private plots elsewhere from Portion 10. The last wartime military burial in Portion 10 was Stoker 2nd Class Victor Cyril Button (RANVR). He was just 18 years old when he died on Christmas Day 1942.
The Council’s decision did not prevent private memorials to wartime casualties from being placed in Portion 10. Three memorials were erected for deaths that had occurred in 1943. A further four headstones were placed in Portion 10 during 1944 and 1945. It is thought that these may be empty graves, as it is known that at least two of the bodies are buried outside of Brisbane. After 1942, the burial of wartime casualties continued in Toowong Cemetery’s other sections where the grave became part of a private family plot. For example, Able Seaman Francis George Allen, who died on 30 June 1944 while serving in the Merchant Navy, was buried in Portion 30.
- Brisbane City Council Heritage Unit, Toowong Cemetery citation
- Friends of Toowong Cemetery Inc., records derived from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Qld Family History Society on monumental & memorial inscriptions at Brisbane General Cemetery, Toowong.
- Nunan, Peter, “Tragedy in Moreton Bay", Wartime: Official Magazine of the Australian War Memorial, Issue 34, (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 2006).
- "Toowong", The Brisbane Courier, (Tuesday 26 April 1931, p.7).
- "New Soldier Cemetery", The Courier Mail, (Saturday 28 November 1942, p.3).