In 1919, the South Australian government decided that the state needed a memorial to commemorate the Victory of the Great War 1914-1918, the supreme and personal sacrifice of those who participated, and the national effort involved.
On 25 April 1931, before a crowd of almost 75,000, the memorial was unveiled.
The National War Memorial has immense statuary significance. The winning design, ‘Spirit of Sacrifice’, features a crypt inside the memorial with bronze honour rolls lining the walls. These contain the names of the men who fell. On the front, the figure within the arch represents the spirit of Duty, bearing in its hands a sword shaped as a cross, the symbol of battle and sacrifice. In front is a group watching this figure.
The group are symbolic of the youth of the community, catching the first glimpse of the vision which appears above the altar of the shrine of sacrifice. Each member of the group - the student, the farmer and the girl - affected by the impulse, instinctively drops the emblems of craft and turns to watch the vision as it becomes clearer.
The reverse represents the passive, the aftermath of war. Once again a winged spirit appears in the arch but this time it symbolises the attributes of Womanhood, her tender maternal compassion, her sacrifice of son and lover, and her power of resistance under strain. The spirit carries on its left arm the limp figure of a dead hero, while in its right hand it holds the cross-like sword, now in its scabbard.
It was the voice of Womanhood which uttered the stirring lines from John Oxenham’s poem, ‘Hail! And Farewell’, engraved below: ALL HONOR GIVE TO THOSE WHO NOBLY STRIVING, NOBLY FELL THAT WE MIGHT LIVE.
In harmony with the sad retrospect of the theme is the fountain of compassion fed from the mouth of a bronze lion and crowned with the Imperial crown as the symbol of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The murmur and movement of the water is ceaseless, typifying the constant flow of memories of the heroes the memorial honours.