The Great War
Aftermath and Commemoration
By Carolyn Holbrook & Keir Reeves (eds.)
Published by UNSW Press • RRP $34.99 in paperback
This book is a collection of essays by prominent and mostly well-known historians. The contributions are divided into four sections:
- War’s End;
- Social, Political and Personal Legacies;
- Representing the Great War; and
- Commemorating the Great War.
There is much to admire in these thought-provoking essays.
Meleah Hampton’s insights into the repatriation of Australians after the Armistice remind us of the enormous challenge of repatriating hundreds of thousands of soldiers and settling them back into society.
It took 176 voyages to repatriate 149,969 men, 1,104 nurses and 16,626 wives and dependants, an event that had the potential to disrupt the Australian economy, which had learned to operate without them.
Joan Beaumont remembers the resilient – and those who were not quite so resilient, such as ‘Pompey’ Elliott – and wonders at the ‘protective factors’ that make some people able to adjust to post-war life and others not.
And let’s not forget the politicians’ role in moulding the Anzac mythology to suit their own world view.
Former Prime Minister John Howard’s role is examined along with that of Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Paul Keating’s push back against the Gallipoli idolatry in favour of greater recognition of the war in the Pacific in World War II, especially the halting of the Japanese advance in New Guinea by Australian troops.
In writing in ‘Making Sense of the Great War Centenary’, Carolyn Holbrook looks at the failure of well-made and historically accurate Anzac-themed TV programs to attract viewing audiences.
Is she correct when she opines that the ‘… bulk of Australians demonstrated by their actions that they were uninterested in extending or challenging their understanding of Australian involvement in the First World War …’?
Yet, anyone critical of the Anzac legend and its mythology on social media is roundly condemned.
The legacy of war is complex and this book reminds us that we live with the legacies of war still, in ways we may not see.
I saw, first hand, my own grandfather living with the legacy of war. Shrapnel imbedded in his leg meant he was unable to stand for long periods and therefore unable to return to his pre-war job as a top chef. This is where the legacy of war becomes personal and intimate.
This is how we can understand it the best – through our own experience ….