Where to now?

I have just completed the five week course from Future Learn called World War 1: 100 stories put together by Bruce, Rebecca and Laura from Monash University. It has been a brilliant course with so much information about WWI.

  • The silent, black and white videos showing the stories of men and women engaged in something related to WWI
  • The discussions with leading historians about certain aspects of WWI
  • The visits to the Melbourne Museum and the Love and Sorrow Exhibition
  • The visits to the different monuments and battlefields

The knowledge of online records that we can now use to flesh out our relatives time during WWI

Australian War Memorial records including:

National Archives of Australia records including:

Commonwealth War Graves including:

Readers: Which post on my blog, about the WWI 100 stories course, did you enjoy most? For those who took part in the course, what did you enjoy the most?

To find them all click on the category on the sidebar labelled WWI: 100 stories

Discussion: Professor Alistair Thomson

Alistair looks at politics, society and the soldier settlements in more detail. He looks in particular at his own relative Hector Thomson who comes down with a debilitating neurological problem in the 1920’s. This coma or unconscious state had been linked to the Spanish Flu and because Hector had in his medical records that he had respiratory problems, it allowed his wife to claim for a pension for looking after him and his farm. The story of the family history can be put together by looking at the repatriation files for Hector and the letters, photos included in it from his wife.

Up to 1916/1917 Australia was flourishing as a new nation but once conscription began, it started to show divisions. When veterans returned home, there were strikes and riots.  The Returned Soldiers League brokered a deal with the government and said they would look after the returning servicemen in exchange for certain privileges- a repatriation scheme paid for by government. When they return home in 1919, diaries and letters are no longer written and soldiers come back to having to live in a house with wife and children after four years at war.

Fred Farrell returned from war, didn’t join the RSL or go on ANZAC Day marches but handed out peace pamphlets instead. He became more radicalized and joined trade unions. The government hadn’t kept up their end of the bargain – no jobs when war was over, no good land to use and no housing for the returning soldiers. They had done their part for the war effort and their country – now it was the governments turn to keep the bargain.

Getting a pension was very much related to what the doctors knew about the mental conditions that returning soldiers would have as well as when and where they applied for a pension. Many would only claim for a pension if it was a physical disability as it was a stigma to have a mental problem, but by the 1930’s this was a reason for getting a pension as the life of the soldier was now very debilitating. They had tried to cope for the ten years after war but now they were a “burnt out digger” who really needed the help.

The RSL was great as a place where veterans could talk with other veterans about their war stories. They were comfortable talking to people who had been through the same experiences as themselves rather than talking to family where they might have to gloss over the negative sides of the war and perhaps some of the terrible things they had done.

I liked Alistair’s comment: A war story becomes a post war story and a veteran’s story becomes a family history. We in Australia are so lucky to have all the archival records to put together these family histories relating to veterans.

My reflection:

I loved the way Professor Thomson led us through the change in beliefs in his family history through looking at the archival records now available. I also found it interesting how the view of participation in war would change depending upon who you were talking to – family, mates, government departments. I don’t think we have learnt much from what happened 100 years ago when it comes to repatriating returned members of the defense services.  Governments are only planning according to their term in office rather than 15/20 years ahead.


Week 5: End of the course

Give peace a chance gaviota paseandera via Compfight

This is the last week of the fantastic WWI in 100 stories course. The topic this week is “The Old Lie”. We look at politics and war from the Australian and New Zealand perspectives.

Again we look at more stories that are silent and in black & white. Just this type of presentation makes you think more about what you are seeing without the distractions of colour or noise.

The first four videos were about a divided society bringing in topics like conscription, pacifism and pensions.

Arthur Rae – only one out of three sons arrived home

Margaret Thorp – the peace angel

Archie Baxter – New Zealand pacifist

Allan Whittaker – shot 13 years after the landing

My reflection:

I was so disappointed in society’s treatment of Archie and Margaret yet after the war Margaret continued with her work about being a peace angel – pacifism was definitely a part of her lifestyle. Having researched more on Archie he also was a pacifist for the rest of his life as were his brothers and sons. At the stage of WWI, religious beliefs were the only reason for exemption to military service.

When soldiers returned home, many were giving a soldier’s settlement grant but these were often out in the country and isolated from other people. The next four videos were about how the soldiers coped on the land.

Charlie Byrne – named his property Bugralong

James Dann – crippled but you can still farm

William Brown – enlisted at age 43

Fred Weir – nervy man but a trier

My reflection

These stories are all so similar. Lack of forethought by bureaucrats or maybe the mentality of that time – wounded men would feel better in the bush  and fresh air and hard work to occupy the mind. I would have liked to see some of the Soldier Settlement stories where the men actually succeeded. It is the wives i feel pity for, moved from their friends to an allotment not suitable for farming and a returned husband without the skills to get it started let alone keep it going.


My epitaph for Bert Crowle

We only had one assignment for this course and that was to write an epitaph for one of the stories with a limit of 66 characters including spaces between words.

For this assignment, I chose to write an epitaph for Herbert Crowle from week 1 of the course. His story stayed in my mind from the very beginning. Injured in the eye as an ANZAC, nursed back to health, then fired upon on the Somme and hospitalized again. So open in what he was telling his wife in his last letter home. Written on his deathbed, yet precise in what he mentioned about gangrene and pain and becoming unconscious. I’m not sure how many soldiers would have been that open with family.

My epitaph – didn’t count spaces at end of each line

Upon his deathbed

Final thought, caring for family

Our loving Bert

The message

As the epitaphs were written by family, I had to think as if I were Beatrice and other family members. What was it that they appreciated about Bert? What had he done to make him a hero in their eyes? How could they convey that in 66 characters?

On his deathbed his final thoughts in his letter home were of caring for his family. This showed me what sort of family man Bert was. He could have written about remembering him as he was before he left to go to war, but he was thinking of them. How they were going to survive without him as he knew he was dying. So Beatrice would have appreciated those final thoughts from her young husband.

I didn’t find this very difficult as I am used to using Twitter with its limit of characters and after reading the epitaph the family did actually write, I wanted this one to be more personal.

Discussions: Professor Jay Winter

Professor Jay Winter is a well-known author of many books relating to World War I. The interview began with him discussing the changes in war from the 19th century to the 20th century.

Rebecca and Laura had a cavalry sword which represented the 19th century where war was fought on horses and was over in a fairly short time once the cavalry charged into enemy lines. They also had small pieces of shrapnel representing the industrialized version of war in the 20th century. You could no longer charge through enemy lines and over 80% of death and wounds in World War I was related to artillery.

Men returning home with damage to their faces knew they would be scary to little children and others in society, even their own mates from battle. In France, some of them actually bought their own beaches so they could be there without frightening others. They often thought of themselves as pariahs despite the many dental and medical surgeons who had operated on them with skin grafts and so on. Veterans had the power of being brothers but if you were less injured than your mate, you could also feel guilty and think, that could have been me.

Despite the physical injuries, their records rarely showed the psychological injuries they would also have been feeling. Jay says 50% of those who went to war would be dead or wounded by the end of war. But everyone would come back home with some form of disability. For many, it would be the gas attacks and the long shadow that would have over the returning soldiers. Gas wasn’t a killer, instead it was a torturer.

Those who suffered from gas wounds were given pensions but these were gradually diminished and the soldiers were then below the poverty line. Physical wounds were best off with pensions, followed by gas wounds and the worst off were those that were shellshocked. If you died from TB, it couldn’t be assumed it was from war as this was a disease found in the normal population at the time.

I found it interesting that in France, if a soldier declared his wounds were war related, he automatically got a pension – it was up to the state to disprove it – pensions were allocated by the veterans themselves, while in other countries, the soldier had to prove the wound was from war.

Families also suffered from war  – mainly relating to money. Women were often the ones who had to write reams of letters regarding their husband needing a pension and then having to keep proving it every time the finance committee did a check. But the returning soldiers also would often take out their frustration and depression on the women and children of their family through the use of violence. The children wouldn’t see any physical damage to their father, but they would feel the violence from the psychological damage.

Shellshock was used in describing conditions of some men returning from war but what is it?

Myers, an anthropologist and physician, used the term when describing concussion in the inner ear or brain caused by heavy artillery fire or shelling. Being buried alive then rescued could show no physiological damage but it would have psychological damage – the treatment was unknown at the time, sometimes men were told they were cowards if they didn’t return to the front line with their mates. This was often seen as a stigma to your manhood if you suffered from shellshock.

Soldiers at both Gallipoli and the western front had no way to protect themselves from the violence of artillery firing and the resulting bursting of shells over or in their trenches. This violence was happening 24 hours a day the whole time your unit was in the trenches. These barrages came from 10 to 50 miles away so you had no control over them.

A person who was nervy and shaking – could he be a true soldier, a man, a brave person, an ANZAC? This is what the shellshocked soldier had to prove.

It wasn’t until after World War II that neural conditions were accepted as being part of combat.

I liked the discussion at the end where the children of shellshocked World War I veterans are now looking into the Great War. Also that the stories of war are those behind the shutters and in the family homes rather than those on the ANZAC Day parades.

Mention was made of Pat Barker who has written “Regeneration” trilogy about WWI and especially shellshocked patients.

Shellshock could be entire paralysis of limbs where a trigger word like bomb would cause total panic, others had uncontrollable movement of limbs, yet others who couldn’t walk straight tried to control their limbs and ended up similar to Charlie Chaplin but still looking awkward.

Two types of disability after war – immediate – can be seen visually like loss of limb etc, blindness, deafness and the second one -traumatic memory – appeared many years after the war was over, was also seen in many Holocaust survivors.

Many of the treatments for shellshock back in the 1920’s  now seem absurd like warm baths, knitting lessons. There was a difference in terminology – officers had nervous breakdowns while the men in other ranks had paralysis. The worst treatment was electro convulsive shock treatment. Some men were given no treatment at all and just locked away in a hospital or institution.