The word Cenotaph means empty tomb, a monument in honour of a person whose body is elsewhere. The word is derived from the Greek Kenos – empty, Taphos – a tomb, Kenotaphlion – Cenotaph. The inscription on the GPO face of the monument is therefore appropriate – “To Our Glorious Dead”.
The first reference to the erection of a “memorial shaft” in Martin Place appeared in 1924. The State Executive of the day asked for one condition – that the Cenotaph be erected in Martin Place.
It was important that:
The Memorial be placed in Martin Place because it was there a number of soldiers had enlisted in World War I.
Martin Place was the centre of the City and all memories of war are associated with it. The Returned and Services League had looked on Martin Place during the war as the heart of the nation.
The Cenotaph was created as a place of formal, and occasionally informal, commemoration of those who paid the supreme sacrifice in the defence of Australia.
On the 8 March 1926 the Premier, Mr Jack Lang, indicated that the Government would provide a sum of ten thousand pounds for the commissioning of Sir Bertram Mackennal to undertake the project of the design and erection of the Cenotaph, to be completed by 25 April 1929.
The model for the soldier was Corporal William Pigott Darby of the 15th Infantry Battalion and 4th Field Ambulance AIF who died in Brisbane on the 15th November 1935 at the age of 63.
The model for the sailor was Leading Seaman John William Varcoe. He enlisted 3rd June 1913, served on HMAS “Pioneer” 1914 – 1916 in German East Africa and on HMAS “Parramatta” 1917 – 1919. He was awarded the DSM in 1918 and died in October 1948, aged 61.
The long-held opinion is that the GPO side is generally accepted as the front of the Cenotaph.