Two poppy leaves from France, inside a Bible, at Digger's last resting place

A symbol of conflict – a soldier’s helmet – and a sign of peace – a Holy Bible – were displayed on the new grave of World War I serviceman Archibald McVicar.

The resting place is the first in mainland Australia to have been upgraded with a military headstone after having been an unmarked grave for many years.

The helmet was worn by Private McVicar in the trenches of France where he is thought to have collected two poppy leaves that are pressed between the pages of the Bible.

Family legend has it that Private McVicar returned to Australia where he handed the Bible to his late son Bill and it eventually found its way to his daughter-in-law June McVicar, of Port Pirie.

“I assume the poppy leaves were picked in France because they were everywhere,” Mrs McVicar said.

She said it was proud moment for her husband, Bob McVicar, who is in a wheelchair, when three of his grandsons took part in the dedication ceremony on Remembrance Day.

The grandsons are Callan and Carson Cox and Guy McRedmond, formerly of the Naval Reserve, who played the Last Post on his bugle.

About 100 people gathered to hear Harry Quick, of the Headstone Project, say it was the first such headstone unveiling event on mainland Australia.

His group, which began in Tasmania, is working to upgrade unmarked graves belonging to servicemen and women who died of causes unrelated to their military service, but who are valued for their worthy lives.

“Mr McVicar is the start of a long journey,” he said.

“It is great to see so many family members, generations, here to honour Mr McVicar who served Australia in the Western Front and returned to this area.”

Dean of the Anglican Church Mary Lewis offered a prayer, saying “we remember those who gave their lives in war and those who served in war and came back”, urging people to think of “Archie”.

Liberal MP Terry Stephens, who played a key role in supporting the project, told the crowd it was a privilege to be involved “as we pay tribute to a departed soldier”.

“I am incredibly proud of the respect that people are showing today,” he said.

Callan Cox, great-grandson of Private McVicar, recited a poem under the watchful eye of Cadet Under Officer Tommy Tancock who was dressed as an Australian Imperial Force soldier.

Another great-grandson Carson Cox recited to the Ode of Remembrance – “they were young, straight of limb … staunch to the end … we will remember them”.

Crosses with Flanders poppies were placed beside the headstone with messages from those remembering a fallen hero.

Later, at the Returned Services League sub-branch hall, the guests included Private McVicar’s nephew, Kenneth McVicar, 84, and his wife Gaynor, of Wallaroo.

Kenneth said his father Leonard’s photo was in the Jamestown Museum and his father was in the 1924 state lacrosse team, a feat emulated by Kenneth in 1969 and 1970.

“I played only because my father did. I would never have known of it,” he said.