The Largest War Memorial in The World is a 243 Kilometer Highway

Feb 11, 2021 2 comments

When the First World War ended, the soldiers who had participated in it and were lucky enough to survive, returned to their homes. As in all wars, some adapted better than others on their return, but many found themselves with the unpleasant situation of being unemployed.

In the case of the Australian soldiers, those who landed on April 25, 1915 in Gallipoli and forced the Ottoman army to surrender in October 1918 with the capture of Gaza and Jerusalem, of the more than 300,000 sent to the front, 60,000 never returned and another 150,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.

Great Ocean Road

The curves of the Great Ocean Road as viewed from Teddy's Lookout south of Lorne in Victoria, Australia. Photo: Diliff/Wikimedia Commons

So that those who were able to return would have at least some employment, the chairman of the country's roads board, William Calder, proposed using the returned soldiers to build a road connecting the hitherto isolated settlements on Australia's southwest coast.

Study of the layout of what was provisionally called the South Coast Road began in 1918. A route was designed starting from the town of Barwon Heads, hugging the coast west around Cape Otway, and ending near Warrnambool.

In order to undertake the project, a company called the Great Ocean Road Trust was formed, headed by the country's president (who donated 3,000 pounds). The company managed to raise 81,000 pounds through private subscriptions and loans. That money would be paid back by charging drivers a toll for using the future highway. Once the debt was paid off, the road would become public property.

Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road. Photo: Arnas Goldberg/Wikimedia Commons

Construction began on September 19, 1919 with the participation of 3,000 Australian soldiers who had fought in the First World War. The work was done mainly by hand, with explosives, picks, shovels and wheelbarrows and very little machinery. Work advanced at the rate of 3 kilometers a month through the desert, the final sections of rugged coastal mountains being the most dangerous and difficult.

The soldiers took the job as if it’s a military mission. A reconnaissance team preceded the bulk of the expedition. They housed in tents and had a common dining room and kitchen. The camp had small amenities like a piano, games, newspapers, and magazines.

The first section was completed in 1922, opening to traffic in December. It would take another ten years for the road to be completed, with a length of 243 kilometers between the towns of Torquay and Allansford. It opened in November 1932, and as President Hitchcock had died only a few months before, his car was included in the inauguration caravan and a monument was erected in his honor as father of the Highway.

Great Ocean Road

Map of the Great Ocean Road. Photo: Open Street Map/Wikimedia Commons

Great Ocean Road

Plaque at Big Hill on The Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. Photo: Chris Sherlock/Wikimedia Commons

Traveling the road was quite an adventure as it was only wide enough for one vehicle, even though it was possible to drive in both directions. The new road facilitated the urbanization of the surroundings. Those who lived nearby or built a house in its vicinity could request, for 5 pounds, the creation of a crossing to be able to join the road.

On October 2, 1936, the road became the property of the Victorian State Government, and the toll was eliminated. In the 1960s, with the proliferation of hotels along the Great Ocean Road, as it was called, some sections were widened. Even so, driving along it remains a challenge to this day, and it is considered one of the great scenic roads in the world.

Great Ocean Road

The Twelve Apostles. Photo: Josselin Berger/Flickr

The road runs all along the so-called Surf Coast crossing tropical jungles, beaches, cliffs and gorges. Among the most picturesque places to which it provides access are the famous Twelve Apostles.

In 2004 a parallel pedestrian path, the Great Ocean Walk, was built. And in 2011 the road was listed as Australia's National Heritage Site as the world's largest war memorial, dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the First World War.

This article was originally published in La Brújula Verde. It has been translated from Spanish and republished with permission.


  1. A slight correction; Howard Hitchcock was the president of the Great Ocean Road Trust, not "the country's president". As Australia has never been a republic, it has never had a president.

  2. Correction: third paragraph entierly innacurate. The road is not located on "Australia's South West Coast" but the South West Coast of Australia's southernmost mainland state Victoria. This is the section of the country across Bass Straight, North of Tasmania. Clearly on the east side of the continent. I'm guessing the writer of the original had written as much, only to be turned into this confusion by an editor who assumed the broader audience would have no idea where or what Victoria is. Lazy writing.


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