For anyone who who has never visited Victoria’s Great Ocean Road – and for those who have, but don’t know its history – the stunning ocean vistas presented by roads cut into wild forest and rock is the world’s largest memorial to commemorate the fallen of World War I. The road was constructed by soldiers returned from the Great War, and it was finished in 1932. The road spans 243 kilometres,and it is not only a memorial to the war dead, but a lasting testement to the  tenacity of its survivors, as it was returned soldiers who built the road, with pick and axe, toil and aching backs.

 The Otways are truly wild. The forest pushes with all of it’s thick and tangled weight to the very edge of the ocean cliffs. The  returned soldiers must have felt like they were facing a whole new adversary, as they carved out this road, in memory of those fallen, out past where the blue meets the deep green, all the way to those other, forlorn shores.

 The land and seascapes of The Great Ocean Road take your breath away as you round a curve that makes your stomach drop. The steep limestone cliffs that hug the road seem to weep tears of their own as witness to the labours of men long dead and the slow drive of the millions of cars and pleasure seekers that have followed.

What shores were recalled to memory by those surviving men? No less beautiful, perhaps, those ports that they travelled to with stoic patriotism and call to duty and adventure. What did it feel like to return to Australia and know that they would never again set sail and cross the waters. Was there yearning, or grief, regret or relief?

 The World War I letters to my great grandmother, which I have spent some time transcribing for a book for family (You can see them here) were written mostly by men who lived to come home. They reaped their hard rewards of work – a job, though not on The Great Ocean Road. They were neither afraid of manual work, nor resentful of it,  their letters tell a tale of duty fulfilled without complaint, and though there is a certain longing for home and familiarity between the inked lines, I wonder what it was like to return to those things when all was said and done? The heady celebrations at the end of the war were surely followed by lives punctuated with the hauntings of the dead on both sides, by maimed limbs, uncomprehending civilians and the loose ends left by such a chasm rent in the life spans of men and nations alike.

Today we remember them. Lest we forget.
Linking up with with #IBOT today over at Essentially Jess