Grief and Nation

The photograph on the left is of my Great-Uncle Louis. He died in 1918 of horrific injuries in the mud and slaughter of the Western Front in France during WWI .

And below is an image, which I find far more poignant, of the family who mourned him. It was taken shortly after they found out he was dead. He should have been in the family photograph. They had waited four years for his return.Just before the telegram announcing his death arrived, they had received a letter from him saying he would be home soon. Louis was the eldest child, the only son. My grandmother, his little sister, is the girl standing behind her grief-stricken father, on the far right.

In all the jingoistic media coverage of Anzac day this past weekend, little mention was made of those who are heartbroken and traumatised by war. Some of the men in my family who returned from WWI (including both my grandfathers and five of their brothers) became pacifists. They had seen enough horror to make them hope WWI would be ‘the war to end all wars’. I grew up believing Anzac day was about grief, not nation.

I have rough drafts of two short historical novels about Australia’s war experiences in a drawer in my office – both based on family experiences. I’m not sure if they will ever come fully to life. Something continues to hold me back from working on them. Maybe it’s a sense of ambivalence about how often Australians can turn stories about suffering into reasons to celebrate.

I started this post with an idea that I’d make a list of my favourite Australian books about WWI – there are plenty of good ones out there, especially for younger readers. But in the end I realised I have mixed feelings about many of them, even the ones I’ve enjoyed reading. So I’m simply going to be nepotistic and post a link to an article my daughter wrote on Anzac day for Eureka Street. Every generation has to reinvent their links to the past.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Every adult was once a child and the child inside them never completely disappears.”

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