World War One
A History in 100 Stories
By Bruce Scates, Rebecca Wheatley & Laura James
Published by Viking/Penguin
RRP $59.99 in hardcover
I’ve been away from the blog for a couple of weeks, on holiday, so I have a bit of catching up to do.
I was intrigued by this book, written by a team from Monash University, as it was first proposed as an Anzac Centenary project, only to meet resistance at the inclusion of the saddest story, the death of four-year-old Isabella Wilkinson at the hand of her father Frank, who also took his own life and that of his wife. The committee deciding such matters pontificated that the public wanted a ‘warm fuzzy feeling’ from the official Anzac Centenary commemorations, not brutal honest history. Fortunately the writers stuck to their guns.
This is a fine collection of stories and a remarkable social history.
Although the stories are just a snapshot of the lives featured, they are representative of the many Australian families irreparably damaged by the First World War. Telling the truth about war requires courage; we need to understand how the impact of war resonates down the generations. In this book, you will find a collection of deeply personal stories of loss, of grief, of violence and of breakdown. Its aim, say the authors, is to widen ‘the ambit of remembrance …. To the broken years that lay beyond.’
I think this is a fine ambition – to counter the ‘nation-defining narrative’ that now accompanies remembrance of the Gallipoli disaster. War is brutal, its impacts lasting and its damage to individuals and families irreparable. That is the real story of war.