The Cenotaph - Martin Place, Sydney

The word Cenotaph means empty tomb, a sepulchral monument in honour of a person whose body is elsewhere. The word is derived from the Greek Kenos - empty, Taphos - a tomb, Kenotaphlion - Cenotaph. The inscription on the GPO face of the monument is therefore appropriate - "To Our Glorious Dead".

The first reference to the erection of a "Memorial Shaft" in Martin Place appeared in 1924. The State Executive of the day asked for one condition - that the Cenotaph be erected in Martin Place.

It was important that:

  • The Memorial be placed in Martin Place because it was there a number of soldiers had enlisted in World War I.

  • Martin Place was the centre of the City and all memories of war are associated with it. The Returned and Services League had looked on Martin Place during the war as the heart of the nation.

On the 8th of March, 1926 the Premier, Mr Jack Lang, indicated that the Government would provide a sum of ten thousand pounds for the commissioning of Sir Bertram Mackennal to undertake the project of the design and erection of the Cenotaph, to be completed by 25th April, 1929.

The model for the soldier was Corporal William Pigott Darby of the 15th Infantry Battalion and 4th Field Ambulance AIF who died in Brisbane on the 15th November 1935 at the age of 63.

The model for the sailor was Leading Seaman John William Varcoe.  He enlisted 3rd June 1913, served on HMAS "Pioneer" 1914 - 1916 in German East Africa and on HMAS "Parramatta" 1917 - 1919.  He was awarded the DSM in 1918 and died in October 1948, aged 61.

The long-held opinion is that the GPO side is generally accepted as the front of the Cenotaph.


Custodian of the Cenotaph

Mr. F. Davidson - 1928
Col. J.S. Purdy DSO VD
Col. G.F. Murphy, CGM DSO VD
Mr. C. Burton MM
Mr. W.M. Miles MM
Col. F.U.J. Tinkler, OBE MC ED - September 1958
Mr F.P.H. Fewtrell - 1960
Mr. J.D. Westwood - 1965
Mr. J.H. Nielson OAM - September 1987
Mr J.T. Sheehan - November 1999
Mr C. Perrin - February 2005
Mr J O'Brien - June 2015
Mr G. Kolomeitz - September 2015
Mr J O'Brien - April 2017



For services at The Cenotaph please click here