Nobody is a nobody!
That’s the message of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which lies at the entrance of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Interestingly, this tomb was only established in 1993 by then Prime Minister Paul Keating. A soldier who had lain in an unmarked grave for 75 years was exhumed from Adelaide Cemetery near Villers-Bretonneux in France and brought home to Australia for burial. He was buried with a bayonet and a sprig of wattle in a Tasmanian blackwood coffin, and soil from the Pozières battlefield was scattered in his tomb.
We do not know his name, rank and battalion, or how he died, only that he was one of 60,000 Australians who died in World War I.
He is important because, up until World War I, little regard was given to soldiers. In fact, they weren’t held in high esteem at all.
The Duke of Wellington, the esteemed British general who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, said, “We have in the Service the scum of the earth as common soldiers.”
Frederick the Great of Prussia described soldiers as “the dregs of society” and Louis XIII of France perceived soldiers as “the bottom of the social heap”. It’s no wonder that the only war memorials until the 1900s were of generals and war heroes.
World War I, however, saw a change in attitude. For the first time, each soldier who fell was identified with a grave, even if they were unknown. They were honoured.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a poignant reminder that we must never forget anyone who played their part in the war effort.
Centuries before, Paul (an early Christian leader) wrote a letter to the church at Corinth making this very point—that everyone counts. We are all important to God.
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Corinthians chapter 12, verse 14).
The truth is we can’t do without each other. Leaders are needed, yes, but no leader can lead without others. One person can’t do it all—in any organisation, whether it’s a church, workplace, family or club.
Just as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier helps us remember and honour those who played their part, it is important we find ways to recognise and honour those who stand alongside us—where would we be without them?
Constant recognition and appreciation is vital to us all, because everyone counts.