The theme of Kenneth Slessor's "Beach Burial" can be summed up in the title of another poem, the seventeenth-century poet James Shirley's "Death the Leveller." In Slessor's poem, corpses are washed up on the beach every morning. Even in the midst of war, the ritual of burial is so fundamental that someone finds time to inter the corpses in the sand. The graves of the dead sailors are marked with crosses, but there is nothing to write as an epitaph except "Unknown seaman," since those burying the bodies do not even know on which side the men fought, much less their names and personal details.
The general theme of equality in death has special meaning in times of war. James Shirley's poem focuses on the way in which death erases social distinctions. Kings and peasants are buried in the same dirt. Slessor adds the dimension of those who, in life, were fighting each other to the death. Now that death has arrived and their corpses are indistinguishable, "the sand joins them together."
The treatment of dead bodies is a major theme in Western literature, arising, for instance, in the Iliad and, most notably, Antigone. The wars which killed Hector any Polynices were brutal, but they were at least personal, without the cold anonymity of mass slaughter, which renders all corpses the same.