‘“That famous army of generous men”: some stories and reflections for Remembrance Day‘, Honest History, 11 November 2016
An extended article about six men who fought in the Great War and the reflections their stories provoked in the author.
The impact of World War I on Australia is both a complex and an endlessly contentious matter. That story is far more than the story of men in battle. It tells of intense division at home, the interruption of the movement towards the more progressive society marked by the first years of federation, reignited sectarian conflict, families and individuals left to deal with the effects of horrific battlefield experience in a generation when things like post-traumatic stress disorder were little understood, a sense that the economic burden of the war had fallen disproportionately on lower income earners, justifiable industrial discontent which provoked strikes … the list could go on.
In remembering that war, these things must be weighed in the scales along with the emergence of something as powerful as the Anzac legend, whose proponents today would have us believe that the battlefield, and how man endured it, was the real crucible of the nation from which a sense of Australian identity has emerged. That is a big load to place on the backs of men like Lunt, Daly and Donovan …
The Australian War Memorial’s Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, those Adelaide graves and commemorated names, that simple wooden cross behind the state memorial, are not these the places where the stories of Bean’s army of generous men reside? By telling their stories in all their sadness, complexity and pain we push through to Bean’s original desire for the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial – that it restore to those so commemorated their essential individuality and humanity.
Richard Reid’s previous contribution to Honest History was about family history and the Western Front.