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Sir Peter Cosgrove appointed national patron of the Virtual War Memorial Australia


The inaugural patron Sir Eric Neal AC CVO has stepped down from the role at the Adelaide-based military history organisation.

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Former Australian Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove said he accepted the role to help ensure the Virtual War Memorial continues to commemorate all who have served the nation in times of armed conflict, including all declared Peacekeeping and Peacemaking missions.

“I have strong views that our veterans, the ordinary men and women who served, deserve their stories to be recorded forever,” Sir Peter said.

Sir Peter Cosgrove was awarded a Military Cross for action in Vietnam in 1969 and was promoted to the rank of General in 2002 as Chief of the Defence Force. He rose to prominence in 1999 as commander of the International Force for East Timor which oversaw the peacekeeping mission during the transition to independence.

In March 2014 Sir Peter Cosgrove was sworn in as Australia’s 26th Governor General, a role he served with distinction until July 2019.

The chairman of the Virtual War Memorial, Peter Williams, paid tribute to the work Sir Eric Neal has done to establish the memorial.

“The contribution Sir Eric has made in the last five years has been outstanding and his new role as Patron Emeritus acknowledges the commitment to continue the guidance and support he has willingly given the memorial” Williams said.

Launched in South Australia in 2014 to commemorate the start of WWI, Virtual War Memorial Australia logs the histories of servicemen and women with details including their units, specific conflicts, places visited, memorials and final resting places.

The database has been expanded over time to include all conflicts that Australia has been involved in, from the Boer War to Afghanistan.

A total of 656,000 person entries exist on the site with 180,000 of them fleshed out with contributions from students and volunteer contributors.

In April the Virtual War Memorial Australia received a grant of $400,000 from the South Australian government to allow its educational component to continue until June 2022.

Chief Executive Officer of the Virtual War Memorial Australia Sharyn Roberts said the project is invaluable for its educational benefit.

“We have a strong view that education and commemoration goes hand in hand,” Roberts said.

“It helps students understand how to contribute to our understanding of history – it’s history in action.

“Over 2000 students will make 2000 contributions by the end of the year.”

She said the project gives history teachers the confidence they need to inspire their students by way of one-on-one consultations with historians and ready access to resource sheets.

“The stronger the passion and commitment is, the more likely that’s passed on to the students,” said Roberts.

Roberts said they plan to grow the Virtual Memorial by the end of the year by uploading 800,000 records from the Australian War Memorial to bring the site to to a total of 1.45 million entries.

There are 21,000 registered contributors, a third from South Australia, who document and update the profiles of all the servicemen and women.

“We have one contributor who is cycling along the western front and photographing headstones of World War I servicemen and uploading them to the site,” said Roberts.

Contributor Susan McKenna is thankful for the service the Virtual War Memorial has done for her research on memorialised serviceman Eric Dyson.

“After 35 years of visiting Eric’s grave, researching his records & commemorating his service I have finally seen his photo,” McKenna wrote on the memorial site.

“As a student I used to walk past his memorial & found the inscription so poignant that I remember it to this day. Long may Eric be remembered.”

Retired army colonel Steve Larkins established the Virtual War Memorial during a visit to WWI battlefields in 2008. His goal was to let anyone log on to research their relatives and also share their stories and family history.

He said the initial data was compiled from the Australian War Museum’s “embarkation lists”, the comprehensive list of names of war dead on memorials around South Australia that were once housed on the Tribute of Honour website, and other military databases.

“We are not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Larkins said.

“We are joining all the dots to ensure there is some place to put all of the stories.”

The website, which was developed by the South Australian company Mindvision, is specifically designed to be able to capture all the stories of ordinary men and women whose service may not currently be profiled in official histories.

Larkins said that the site operates like Wikipedia, with experts and volunteers verifying the uploaded material before it is published.

“All the records are anchored to a source of truth – the lists provided by the Australian War Museum and other sources,” he said.

“What the memorial will do is become the community end to these lists.”

He said that by allowing the public to add stories to the lists would mean a name etched in stone on a memorial would become a person and the site would become a home for the stories told around the dining table.

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story. Copied to Clipboard

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