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.