Recent purchase by the Australian War Memorial of the gravestones of two George Cross (GC) recipients killed in the 1944 Cowra Prisoner of War Breakout was undertaken with the full knowledge and support of Cowra Council, Cowra Mayor, Councillor Bill West said.
The original headstones of Private Benjamin Hardy GC and Private Ralph Jones GC were replaced with the current headstones after the two men had been posthumously awarded the George Cross in the 1950s.
"Following the awarding of the George Cross to the two men, the original headstones were replaced with corrected headstones sometime in the 1970s with the originals eventually coming into the collector's hands after that," Cr West said.
"Council and the Australian War Memorial became aware that these two items were coming-up for auction in Cowra in early April with the War Memorial indicating that they intended to purchase the headstones to ensure that they did not once again fall into a private collector's hands," Cr West explained.
Allowing for the circumstances as they now were, Council supported the War Memorial bid and also engaged the War Memorial representatives to bid on another item at the auction on Council's behalf.
"In this situation, Council is very pleased that the headstones are now under the care of the Australian War Memorial and I wish to personally thank the War Memorial Director, Dr Brendan Nelson, for making this happen," Cr West said.
"Cowra holds a special place in Australian and, indeed, world history as the site of the largest Prisoner of War Breakout in World War II and the site of the only land battle in Australia during the War. The Breakout involved thousands of Japanese prisoners of whom 231 — as well as four Australian servicemen — died. A large military training camp was also situated on the outskirts of Cowra during this time.
"Council and the community are very aware of the responsibility that we hold in preserving this unique legacy and have worked for many decades to commemorate this history and will continue to do so," Cr West concluded.