RSL Tasmania fighting to save soldier honour boards, graves threatened by sale of Anglican churches

MISSION: RSL Tasmania president Terry Roe will meet with Premier Will Hodgman to voice his concerns over the sale of churches home to soldier honour boards.
MISSION: RSL Tasmania president Terry Roe will meet with Premier Will Hodgman to voice his concerns over the sale of churches home to soldier honour boards.

Some of Northern Tasmania’s churches being sold off to fund part of the redress scheme could be home to the graves of World War I soldiers.

RSL Tasmania has been researching the more than 50 churches on the Anglican Church’s list to ensure any graves of returned soldiers or servicemen and women are protected, as well as memorials and honour boards. 

“We’re hopeful we will be able to have access to church and community records so we can establish if there are any graves,” state president Terry Roe said.

“It is not just about World War I either, it is about World War II and all other conflicts and all men and women who have served in the Australia Defence Force.

“It’s also about the heritage and the history of the communities, once you remove a cemetery for example then that history from that little community is gone and you won’t get it back. Besides the possibility of having ex-servicemen and women buried, there’s probably prominent citizens from the communities.”

Mr Roe said under the current Burial and Cremations Act 2002, graves could be removed after a certain period of time if the church was purchased privately.

“There’s nothing stopping the owners bulldozing the building or removing the monuments and headstones or even exhuming the bodies,” he said.

“That would just be such a disgrace if that happened.”

It’s not all bad news at some of the churches though.

At St Peters Church at Fingal, an honour board will be saved by a local history group.

Another honour board at Pyengana has been protected and will be relocated to the community hall.

At Mathinna, a community group is working to relocate a third honour board at St Michaels and All Angels Church.

“The group has been in touch with the Anglican Diocese to make an offer to buy the church [at Mathinna],” Mr Roe said.

In an effort to spread the message further, Mr Roe reached out to the Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson.

“I sent him a letter and he rang me up, he was very surprised and very disappointed,” Mr Roe said.

All 51 sub-branches of RSL Tasmania have joined the mission to protect the history of the state’s soldiers.

Now, Mr Roe is planning to meet with Premier Will Hodgman next month to discuss his concerns and push for changes to the Burial and Cremations Act 2002.