Two soldiers in unmarked graves in Katoomba to finally receive recognition

Two men who fought for Australia in World War One and have laid in unmarked graves in Katoomba Cemetery for more than eight decades, will finally be recognised.

John Thomas from the Forgotten Diggers organisation has made it his mission in life to gain recognition for the thousands of Diggers who lie in unmarked graves in Australia.

He estimates there are close to 10,000 unmarked graves in NSW alone, but says there are only two unmarked graves he knows of in the Blue Mountains.

Mr Thomas was researching his own history when he stumbled across information about Private John Parker and contacted Katoomba RSL Club president Brian Turner, who in turn told him about Private Basil Morrow.

Mr Thomas applied to the Office of Australian War Graves and the Department of Veterans Affairs for official recognition under the unmarked graves program. In early 2021 a Commonwealth war grave will be installed for Private Morrow and a permanent headstone for Private Parker, recognising their service to Australia.

On November 22, two temporary wooden crosses were placed on the soldiers' graves, before their permanent headstones are installed next year.

"It's to try and put a face, put a story to a barren piece of earth," Mr Thomas said.

Deputy mayor Chis Van der Kley said the headstones would "recognise the service that these two people did for our nation."

Blue Mountains MP said it was important to acknowledge these forgotten Diggers.

"The stories of these men's lives and recognising their lives this way is critical," she said.

Private John Parker was assigned to the 45th Battalion and suffered a gunshot wound to his chest on April 6, 1918. When the time came for repatriation back to Australia, he accepted work as a watchmaker with a London firm, not realising he hadn't been cleared by the military, who had declared him AWOL (absent without official leave), Mr Thomas said.

By July 1920 he was deemed eligible for discharge and at some point returned to Australia, where an article in a Katoomba newspaper in September 1932 mentioned Private Parker collecting a food order at Katoomba police station and returning to his horse and cart which had been converted into a mobile home. He died from natural causes in his camp near Medlow Bath in September 1932. Local authorities could not locate any relatives and so the Katoomba-Leura branch of the RSL organised a funeral and buried him at Katoomba Cemetery on September 20, 1932.

Private Basil Morrow suffered a gunshot wound to his finger in Egypt during the war, but went on to serve in France and Belgium. He received a Military Medal for his actions in Belgium in September 1916, when he "showed conspicuous dash and daring ... during a raid on the enemy's trenches".

He was discharged in February 1918 and returned to Australia, securing work as a wood cutter. He appeared to have "dropped dead" - likely from heart disease - while chopping a tree in June 1921, Mr Thomas said.

Private Morrow has laid in unmarked grave in Katoomba Cemetery for nearly 100 years. He did not have any relatives in Australia, although he did have family in Ireland.

Mr Turner lives in hope relatives will come out of the woodwork, and said finally having headstone was significant.

"They are not the unknown solider, it's someone who is known ... as a result they are then remembered."

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