The Great War

Aftermath and Commemoration


Carolyn Holbrook & Kier Reeves

Sydney, UNSW Press   2019

Paperback   304pp   RRP $39.99


Reviewer: Mike O’Brien, January 2020


This scholarly and readable book contains a series of essays grouped as: War’s End; Social, Personal and Political Legacies; Representing the Great War and Commemorating the Great War. All the authors are well qualified for their subjects.

I will choose a sample of several of the essays. The role of the Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Imperial League of Australia as an advocate for the rights of Aboriginal returned servicemen is given justifiable discussion in Richard Trembath’s essay. Among several points he makes is that many sub-branches fought for the rights of these men; this struggle continued for those involved in later conflicts; this matter is largely absent in RSL histories and that branch and sub-branch support was uneven. This section is an important addition to the wider topic of Aboriginal war service.

Professor Bruce Scates makes a well-aimed and highly critical analysis of the Sir John Monash Centre recently opened at Villers Bretonneux. This $100m ‘museum’ commemorates Australia’s part in the Great War. Scates sees much political correctness in its treatment of the war. He also detects political opportunism in its exclusion of themes such as the conscription referenda, industrial unrest and other effects on Australia’s home population. He sees too much emphasis on perceived ‘Anzac values’ and their ‘legacy’ and too little mention of Allies. His essay will not please the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Harry Reynolds writes of the ‘militarisation’ of Australian history. He questions whether Australia prior to the First World War was substantially different to that after the Anzac experience. Whether the ‘birth of a nation’ is attributable to Anzac or not, I would contend that the casualties of that war had a huge and almost universal effect on Australia’s population and changed it forever.

This book will both please an annoy many of its readers – but it will make them consider the aftermath of the Great War anew.




The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.


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