Eternal flame as a symbol of commemoration

 

Flames are a general symbol of eternal life. In Australia, the eternal flame is strongly associated with the commemoration of our war dead. It helps us to remember and recognise the sacrifice of those who died during service. At the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the Eternal Flame sculpture burns in gratitude of those who gave their lives in times of wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

History of its symbolism

An eternal flame, like a flame, lamp or torch, glows for an indefinite amount of time.

In 1921, Gregoire Calvet, a French sculptor, suggested that a blue electric bulb be lit every evening above the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris. In this way, the monument would be illuminated both day and night.

French journalist and World War I veteran, Gabriel Boissy, took up Calvet's idea in 1923, suggesting an eternal flame to recall the sacrifice and memory of the soldiers. The flame symbolises an eternal soul for those who had served and died in the war.

The eternal flame has been adopted as a worldwide symbol of remembrance, they burn or glow at war memorials in right around the world.

At the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the Eternal Flame sculpture burns in gratitude of those who gave their lives in times of wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

A flame burning in the middle of a pond in a courtyard area of a building

The eternal flame at the Australian War Memorial. Nick-D, 2014, Wikimedia Commons.

What it means to us today

Today, the flame continues to be a symbol of gratitude and remembrance. We often see the flame used at service vigils, memorials and shrines to commemorate those who lost their lives during wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

The flame has been widely used at Anzac Day dawn services. Many Australians see the flame as representing the 'Anzac spirit'. In the past, people held candle-lit services. Today, we often use electronic candles for safety.

In 2020, Australian ex-service organisations initiated many Anzac Day activities for people to do at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

  • Driveways at Dawn
  • Light Up the Dawn

This encouraged Australians at home to make a personal commemoration. By joining in, people showed their support by holding candles in driveways, on balconies and indoors.

Engage more with this topic

Look through the #drivewaysatdawn and #lightuptheaawn social media posts. You'll see how many Australians used the symbolism of the flame to pay their respects and remember those who have served and died.


Last updated: 9 November 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Eternal flame as a symbol of commemoration, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 3 December 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/commemoration/symbols-commemoration/eternal-flame-symbol-commemoration
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