After the War
and the mental and physical scars of World War I
University of Western Australia Publishing 2017
Paperback 229pp RRP: $39.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, October 2019
The accidental encounter of the tragic story behind the murder-suicide of her own late father-in-law in 1929 saw Leigh Straw embark upon the examination of the stories of many of the West Australians who returned physically and mentally damaged from the First World War. Prime ministers in the last few decades have espoused the nation-building contributions by the ANZACs, but little attention has been paid to the personal anguish of the servicemen involved and the impact upon their families.
Substantial chapters are devoted to ‘the call to arms’, detailed combat experiences and life after repatriation to Australia. With pre-war employment no longer available, many faced resettlement on government allotments that were too small and on unproductive land. These circumstances were exacerbated by the constant red tape and intrusiveness by Repatriation services. Depression and alcoholism reared their ugly heads as it became a constant battle to justify what was war-related conditions to panels far removed from reality. Many seeking to manage their own financial affairs (including pensions) were often deemed mentally unstable or incapable which reduced their self-esteem even further.
The struggles with bureaucracy to create sufficient sanitorium accommodation to cater for those affected by front-line gas attacks and have those with mental instability treated outside the existing mental asylums, lasted for many years. Families went to incredible lengths to hide from families and the wider community to conceal the suicide of an ex-serviceman. It is only in recent years that ‘shell shock’ has been reclassified as ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’ and lost its stigma for those who are prepared to admit to suffering from it.
A couple of minutes research would have avoided having the ‘AIF’ referred to something other than the ‘Australian Imperial Force’, and the Armistice being signed at 11pm instead of at ‘the eleventh hour’.
This is a subject that needs to be taken on board by society, and its telling here is understandably is at times not very pleasant reading. An incredible amount of research has been done to produce this work, with extremely detailed Notes at the end of each chapter, a lengthy Bibliography and Index.
The RUSI – Vic thank the publishers for providing this copy for review.