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.

War wounds

Ward 31, Harefield Hospital, England - WW1

Just listening to the introductory video by Bruce Scates has made me see the horror of some parts of war like the four waves of Lighthorsemen at the Nek in Gallipoli being used as a diversion, the use of grappling hooks to drag the wounded back to the trenches – what other horrors will we be shown this week?

Our first four videos looked at physical wounds from returning soldiers:

  • Hugo Throssell – wounded twice – but became a pacifist and socialist due to war
  • Gordon Wallace  – hot metal blew up in his face but no widow’s pension after he died – he was drunk
  • Harold Candy – suicide the night before his marriage
  • Bernard Haines – enlisted age 14 – crippled by age 16

My reflection:

When I visited the Australian War Memorial earlier this year, I found that only those soldiers who died in war or within 6 years of returning were listed on the walls there. I think this should be changed – any soldier, sailor, airman or nurse who dies of wounds caused through war, should have their names on the walls there.

Too often a brave soldier will also be brave back at home – all that mateship and so on and also not talking about the negative aspects of war.

The next four videos looked at the psychological damage of returning soldiers:

  • Frank Wilkinson – survived war but not peace
  • Royce Baesjou – died of shellshock – read more about Royce here
  • Rowley Lording – drug addiction after war
  • Unknown patient – identified 11 years after the war – a Kiwi with an Aussie slouch hat

My reflection:

All four stories were compelling in different ways but I wonder whether we have really learnt anything since WW1 in the treatment of psychological problems of returning soldiers. Still not enough hospitals to treat them, not enough housing to look after them, not enough jobs for them to help their families.

Exploring the indigenous experience in WW1

Chris Saunders 1916
Chris Saunders 1916

Australian War Memorial under the ID Number: P00889.012

Rebecca Wheatley and Laura James interviewed Wesley Enoch for this session of the course.

Wesley wrote the play “Black Diggers” after researching how the indigenous Australians were treated before, during and after war.

One way the aboriginal peoples of Australia told stories was through clap sticks – clapping them together, reading the stories told by the painting or etching on the sticks. By “reading” a clap stick you can tell a lot about the culture as well as who owned it.

At the outbreak of WW1, aboriginals in Australia, despite being the original landholders of the country, had no rights under white people government. They were not considered as citizens. So why would they volunteer to enlist and fight for that country who gave them no rights?

The Australian War Memorial have found, so far, about 1300 indigenous people who have served in WW1 in their records.

Why did they enlist?

Part of growing up on a mission station (often run by churches) was the idea of service to your community. Also there was a lot of oppression on a mission station so joining up gave freedom and adventure away from the station. Another reason that is contentious is the idea of warrior spirit – being able to go out and hunt or kill which they were not allowed to do on the stations. These skills showed you were a warrior within the tribe.

Prior to the end of 1916 when a referendum was held, the AIF would not allow indigenous soldiers to join as they were not of European heritage. But after the referendum, this changed. Once the soldier joined the AIF, he was treated the same as the substantially European soldier even though the indigenous man would be treated as different back in his home state.

What were they fighting for?

Treated as a mate and part of the team while in the trenches or desert yet once back home, each state could treat them differently. Earning money while fighting, yet when that money was sent home to family, the aboriginal protector would take the money rather than give it to family.

How were they treated when fighting?

Having one racist person in a platoon or unit was not acceptable as this would stop the unit working as a team especially if the racist would not obey commands from the black leader of the unit.

It is interesting looking back 100 years to see the diversity of stories both in the fighting and upon return to Australia. World War 1 was the time when Australia came together as a nation – we were fighting as a country – whether white or black. But now we can see the problems caused upon return like shell shock, beatings of women, break up of families – problems affecting both black and white soldiers. But how did the government help with these problems?

Back home – has it changed?

Whilst fighting, many indigenous soldiers learnt new skills that they wanted to use back home to improve their life on the missions and stations. White soldiers started wanting rights for their indigenous mates – able to go to the pub for a drink with each other.

On our $50 note there is a church on the back which is from an aboriginal station at Raukkan and in it is memorial stained glass windows for the indigenous soldiers who enlisted from that station. They fought for freedom and justice is inscribed on the windows.

There was a spiritual loss for the aboriginal families who lost sons or fathers or brothers – they were no longer in their country. Very few mothers would be able to visit the war graves as they were not citizens of Australia and couldn’t travel even if they could afford it. That is why medals, letters and diaries were very important for them to keep in touch with their loved ones.

With all the upsurge of celebrating the 100 years, there is now a group of people called connecting spirits who will visit these graves in Europe with groups of children and exchange soils from home land and the grave area where they are buried. A way to have a ceremony to connect with their spirits.

 My reflection for this week:

This week I have been ashamed to be an Australian, but I know we can’t blame this generation for the sins of their forefathers. Life in Australia for the indigenous people was terrible 100 years ago and there are improvements happening but it is a slow process.

Being a retired teacher who has taught about the aboriginal feel for their country, their oral stories and the passing down of knowledge, I could see how the mothers felt when all they had was a medal or letters or diaries. How disappointed they would be that the mourning ceremonies could not be done properly over their son, father, brother.

So glad that descendants of the indigenous soldiers now have a chance to do the ceremonies and make that connection again.