Honour rolls as a symbol of commemoration in Australia
Many Australian communities have made honour boards or honour rolls to remember local people who have served or died. A roll of honour often commemorates the war dead - people who were killed in action or who died of illness or wounds - and those listed as missing.
History of its symbolism
Honour rolls are a common form of war memorial in Australia. They can be found in schools, community halls, memorial halls, shire offices and many other locations.
In many communities, honour rolls were the first type of memorial to honour people who had enlisted to serve in World War I. Most old honour boards were made in the 1920s from a mix of materials, such as wood, stone, metal, paper and photographs.
Wooden honour boards tend to be most common, and they are still on display in local communities. The type of wood used can relate to the budget of the community at the time.
On these boards, you'll find the names of people from a community, club, association or school who served during a war. The names of those who died might be marked with a cross. Sometimes an abbreviation after a name indicates that that individual received a decoration for bravery or conspicuous service.
What it means to us today
On many special days of commemoration, such as Anzac Day or Remembrance Day, people gather at a local war memorial or at the site of an honour roll.
The honour rolls throughout Australia remind us of the significance that Australians attached to their participation in wars and conflicts and especially to the memory of those who served in the armed forces.
Engage more with this topic
Short animation and picture book
Watch our 1-minute video, which supports learning in the Here They Come big book for primary school students.
Inquiry-based learning activity
- Where are the honour rolls in your community?
- What you find out about their history? Who designed them? Under what circumstances were they erected? How were they funded? You could search through digitised newspapers in Trove.
- What memorials to individuals who died in the war, such as stained glass windows, special pews, altars and wall plaques, are there in your local churches?
- Are there any other special memorials relating to wartime service in your local community?
- Is information available to help people learn about these items? If not, you might like to create a pamphlet or web page to promote them.
Research learning activity
One way to commemorate a veteran named on an honour roll is to trace their service history. You might find out when they enlisted and at what age, where they served, and how their service has been commemorated.
To start, you'll need to know some basic details, such as:
- full name
- date and place of birth
- armed service in which they served
- approximate year of enlistment
Depending on the conflict or operation in which they served, their war service records might be available online or available on request from either the National Archives of Australia or the Department of Defence.
If you'd like to do some research, we have some resources to help:
- Researching Australians at war (web page)
- Recording oral histories with veterans (web page and video)
- Reflections: Capturing Veterans' Stories (online publication)
You can start by asking people in your local community what they know. See Just Ask for extra help.
National Roll of Honour
The Australian Government maintains the National Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It records and commemorates members of the Australian armed forces who have died during or as a result of war service, or for post-1945 conflicts, warlike service, non-warlike service and certain peacetime operations.
Care and preservation
If you have an old wooden honour roll in your community, you need to make sure it's being preserved for future generations.
Honour boards made from wood are susceptible to mould and insect attack. Try to protect them from moisture and changes in temperature, which can cause warping, splitting and cracking.
When on display, clean the board regularly with a soft cloth or a small vacuum nozzle to prevent the build-up of dust that will attract insects.
In storage, protect the board with a dust cover made from washed cotton sheeting.
For more advice on preserving wartime objects, see our book Memories and Memorabilia.