The people of the village of Sutton Veny in the heart of the Wylye Valley have for the best part of the last century tended the graves of 143 Australian soldiers who gave their lives in service of British Commonwealth during WWI. The tradition began on Anzac Day in 1918 when some children of the village laid posies of Spring flowers, gathered from the hedgerows, on the graves. It became an annual undertaking which has continued to this day.
The reason why so many WWI soldiers from Australia lie buried in Sutton Veny is due in part to the fact that the village was the site of No 1 Australian General Hospital, to which casualties from the front were brought by train and where they later died from their wounds. However, many also succumbed to the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918 and 1919, after they had reached the ‘safety’ of English soil.
Today, in a moving commemorative service led by the Bishop of Salisbury and attended by members of the Australian Army, the British Military and the local community, 143 bells rang out in honour of the fallen, whose graves had been freshly dressed by school children just two days earlier.
Visitors to this very special commemoration event couldn’t fail to be moved by the Sutton Veny villagers’ unswerving commitment to preserving the memories of the young men who lie in their care. The immaculately tended, freshly dressed and glistening white graves in the Australian War Commission Cemetery must bring some comfort to visitors from the other side of the globe.
After the service, guests moved next door into the village hall marquee to look at the Wiltshire at War: The Call to Arms exhibition.