Suppressing an ‘undesirable public controversy’: Corpses, the Department of Defence, and the Australian Graves Services, 1919–1921

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Abstract

This article documents an instance where the Australian Department of Defence investigated widespread misconduct in one of the Army’s units, took limited action to address it, and made sure information pertaining to the unit investigated would not be made public. The incidents took place between 1919 and 1921, and the unit under investigation was the Australian Graves Services, a non-combatant unit in charge of Australian soldiers’ war graves overseas. This article argues that the Department of Defence’s silencing of an undesirable public controversy pertaining to Australian War Graves highlights a discrepancy that existed between both public perception and political rhetoric on how the dead ought to be handled, and the reality of disarray and carelessness in on-site grave work. It shows that the Department of Defence went to great lengths to make sure that the dysfunctionality of the Australian Graves Services did not become public, as mismanagement of Australian corpses and graves would undeniably have led to a national outcry.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalHistory Australia
Early online date12 Apr 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Apr 2022

Keywords

  • Australian Graves Services
  • Human Remains
  • First World War
  • Corpses
  • human remains

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