Multicultural A.I.F. in WW1

Coo-ee to Australia - WW1

This, the third week of the course, looks at the other ANZAC – how multicultural was the A.I.F. during WW1?

The stories this week included:

  • Peter Rados – Greek born Australian immigrant with parents and sisters living in Turkey
  • Peter Chirvin – Russian born immigrant who died on the ship home after ridicule from shipmates
  • Cornelius Danswan -first generation Chinaman with an English mother
  • Abas Ghansar – born in India, came to Australia but could be deported at any time

These four stories showed how the “non white” soldier was treated especially by bureaucracy after the war was over. Having lost so many soldiers in the early battles, the recruitment officers would take anyone during the last couple of years of the war. They were then used as cannon fodder in the battles in Europe. Australia at this time had a form of white Australia policy and made it hard for non white people to live decently in the country.

But as many commenters mentioned, the aspect of pensions also affected the white soldiers. Who got pensions? Why were some cut? Were white and non white soldiers treated differently with pensions?

The next stories looked at the indigenous soldiers here in Australia

  • Alexander McKinnon – mother received parcel but gratuity went to protector of aborigines, medals to stepmother
  • William Maynard – one of three brothers sent to war and body is still missing
  • Rigney brothers – sand of birth country intermingled with sand of death country
  • James Arden – stood up for his rights and entitlements

My reflection: 

All four stories were compelling but for different reasons. I felt for “Cobb” in not receiving her son’s medals but I felt most proud of James Arden for standing up to white authority of that time and in using his entitlements to help his whole community not just his family.

I wonder how the New Zealand government are going to treat my ANZAC soldier who had a father who was Afghan and a mother who was Australian? Find out more on my blog when I have done the research.



Week 2: Women at war

"Tev on Greek Donk"

Creative Commons License ThruTheseLines via Compfight

Back when I was teaching, there was a great resource in schools about women at war. I used it often as it had links to many primary resources as well as interesting questions for researching.

This week our course looks at just this topic. Again we have the silent videos to watch and comment upon.

The first four videos look at women mobilized at the battlefront.

  • Racheal Pratt who lived through the war but because of injury, it followed her until her death.
  • Evelyn (Tev) Davies who had such a positive outlook both during and after the war
  • Elsie Tranter tells us about the final moments of war
  • Narrelle Hobbes nearly made it home after 4 years surviving the war

My Reflection

The four stories show dedication to the profession of nursing. All four nurses would have had terrible memories of what they were seeing or what happened to them. The most compelling to me was that of Racheal Pratt while researching more of Tev Davies I could see her positive side coming through in her images as well as her letters.

The second group of videos looks at women’s unpaid labour during the Great War

There were over 10000 societies created in Australia and New Zealand during early war time to help send comfort to the men at the battlefront. All this work was done voluntarily and without it, the war could not have been won says one historian. Women were empowered during this time period, especially when the conscription debate started. They also travelled to the home country to help out “our boys” from there.

  • Ettie Rout – sexual health reformer behind the battlelines
  • Lizzie Armstrong – masseuse and tour guide organizer
  • Hilda Williams – civilian nurse who died after the armistice
  • Mary Chomley – looking after POWs through the Red Cross

 My Reflection

To me the most compelling was that of Nurse Hilda Williams – a civilian who volunteered when she probably knew there was a chance she would die. But I was also extremely inspired with Ettie for thinking ahead to what life was going to be like for these men and their families when they returned home with VD and other sexual diseases. Mary and Lizzie were very impressive with their efficiency and organization skills.

Readers: Have you heard of other experiences perhaps closer to home of women at war? There must be many unsung women heroes who stayed at home to do their part. 



Memorials and grief

dorothy virginia moses, mount soledad memorial

quite peculiar via Compfight

Why do we have so many memorials?

Most people couldn’t visit the cemetery where their son or daughter or father was buried after war whether it be World War 1 or World War 2 or more recent wars. Bodies were not brought home to be buried so where could the family grieve?

In Australia, we have many memorial avenues where each tree represents a fallen soldier, or honour boards at RSL clubs noting the names of each person who took part in the war. We also have lots of war memorials in small towns noting those people who served in war from that particular town, not just those who died. Sometimes the small hall in a town is a memorial for the dead or hospital wings named for the fallen. In Britain some stones also include the address of the fallen soldier. Distance was such a big factor in finding somewhere to grieve for the family members.

Tombs of the unknown soldier also allow people to grieve for either an individual or a group who have fallen.

The War Grave Commission wrote a book “Where the Australians rest” describing the cemeteries of where the WW1 dead were buried and this was available to families.

Websites to check out about memorials.

Connecting with families

A new term I learnt was fictive kin – the example of a soldier visiting the parents of his dead mate after or during war. A way of grieving with his family even though you are not related by blood.

Who did the soldiers write home to? Generally it was the mother. Who wrote to the soldiers – usually the mother, maybe brothers and wives but how often did fathers write?

Therefore most of the open grief was shown by the women in the family – but how did it affect the fathers? Maybe they felt they couldn’t show their grief – stiff upper lip and all that. Mother’s grief was paramount, maybe because she gave birth to the child who had now died as a soldier.

Fathers often had to sign the form to allow their sons to go to war if they were under 21. Imagine the grief and guilt he must have felt when they didn’t return.

Some middle class families created scrapbooks or memorial books about the life of their son as a way to remember his life up till his death in war.

But very little is known about the working classes and how they grieved for their dead – very little personal memorabilia around.

Readers: If you have lost someone, not necessarily due to war, how have you shown grief? Was it different for a male partner?