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Sufferings and Challenges of Australia's First World War Veterans

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Allied victory brought an end to World War I, but did not bring an end to the suffering and challenges of Australia’s people. The experiences of Australian soldiers and their families in 1919 support this viewpoint, due to the economic, social and national issues within this time-period and the physical, psychological and emotional struggles of World War I veterans. The suffering and challenges of war may have dissipated, but were only replaced with a new set of challenges, such as repatriation to civilian life, coping with the loss of loved ones in a post-war society and outbreaks of the Spanish influenza.

The Australian soldiers of the Great War experienced much post-war suffering, accompanied by many challenges in 1919. After the initial celebrations of the Allied victory and soldiers returning home lapsed, post-war society began to treat veterans poorly. Medical advancements, such as prosthetic limbs, were made to try and improve the quality of life for disabled veterans; however, these developments were futile in comparison to the psychological trauma, or ‘shell-shock’ faced by countless soldiers upon return to Australia. ANZACs who had a war-related disability also suffered greatly at the hands of Australian post-war society. Many friends and relatives who hadn’t gone to war were desperate to put those years of hardship behind them and start afresh, even if it meant they had to disregard their returned loved ones’ pain and suffering to do so. “They wanted a return to normalcy, and they expected returned men to show a similar desire” (Gammage, 2010). “…in 1919 Ex Diggers were singing for a living in the streets. Men without arms and legs, some in wheelchairs” (Per H. Brewer, quoted in Bill Gammage’s ‘The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War’). This quote shows that, despite having won the war and returned home, disabled Australian soldiers hadn’t fully re-joined Australian society. To remedy this repatriation issue, medical developments in prosthetics were made. Prosthetic limbs would help increase a patient’s ability-level (giving them the ability to work and provide for themselves and their families) and generally enhance their quality of life. Over 3000 Australian men became limbless through World War I (Australian War Memorial Contributors, 2019), this idea was good in theory. Nevertheless, prosthetics could only do so much to aid soldiers in regaining a sense of normalcy in civilian life. Countless veterans struggled psychologically with war-stemmed emotional traumas, which made returning to civilian life more challenging. Australian general, John Monash, describes the complexity of the repatriation situation in terms of veteran welfare: “The problem is not only how to return these people home to Australia in the most expeditious way, but also how to send them home in a condition – physically, mentally and morally – to take up their duties of citizenship with a minimum of delay, a minimum of difficulty and a minimum of hardship on the community and on the individual” (Monash, 1919).

This dilemma of trying to reach a mental and moral condition which would allow veterans to conduct their post-war responsibilities, coupled with the expectations for a ‘return to normalcy’ by family and friends at home (Gammage, 2010), made 1919 a vastly challenging year, both for Australian veterans and for the rest of Australian society.

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Despite the Allied victory, Australian society still had many war-related challenges and suffering to experience in 1919. Between the challenges of adjusting to a veteran family member with a war-related disability or injury, dealing with the sorrowful loss of loved ones, coping economically in a post-war society, and the arrival of war-brides, Australian society was facing many additional challenges. Firstly, the families of veterans suffering from disability, injury, shell-shock or illness due to the war suffered many trials and tribulations. The loved-ones of men requiring constant medical attention found their lives organized around hospital visits (Larsson, 2019). Those living with veterans suffering from severe shell-shock had to adjust to “…psychological symptoms such as sleeplessness and memory loss…” (Larsson, 2019). Families of returned soldiers also had to deal with knowing they could not understand what their loved ones had experienced during the war. There was a great bitterness felt by veterans for this, as, due to their family’s naivety, they felt misunderstood. In a post-war society, there was a vast amount of grief, sorrow and suffering felt by those who had lost loved ones in the war. From mourning widows and mothers to children who had lost their fathers and men returning from war to find themselves an only child. Suffice to say, 1919 was a year of mourning for countless Australians. This sense of loss was more than merely emotional; as men earnt much higher wages than women during this time-period ('My Learning' Contributors, 1919), many families lost their main bread-winners to the war (whether by death or disability). Pensions were distributed by the Australian government to provide financial aid to these disadvantaged families and/or women. Returned service-men who were unfit to work also received government-issued pensions and financial support (Bongiorno, 2016). War Widows received the first state-funded, non-contributory pensions, along with dependent’s allowances for each of their children. However, these pensions had strict guidelines. Women who married ex-servicemen after the war wouldn’t receive the pension if their husband died of war-related injuries after the war ('My Learning' Contributors, 1919). Evidence also suggests some women were denied the pension by their local pensions office, purely as they didn’t have ‘dependents’ (children) and therefore didn’t ‘need’ it (War Widow's Pension, 1919). Whilst many Australian families continued to mourn their lost loved ones and struggle to find financial stability, a new social group of women and children were arriving in Australia due to the war. Upon arrival to Australia, war-brides suffered much hardship. Along with having to adjust to an entirely new culture, climate, lifestyle and society, war brides suffered much discrimination. There was an incident in Melbourne, where “one group of new arrivals (war brides) was physically attacked on the Melbourne wharf by factory girls enraged that Aussie men, who were in short supply, had chosen foreign wives” (Fallows, 2002). Many Australians upheld the opinion that these women had corrupted and ‘stolen’ Australian men, and therefore acted resentfully, jealously and with prejudice towards these young women and their children (Fallows, 2002). Whilst Australian society experienced these challenges and causes of suffering in 1919, there was another set of struggles faced by Australia on a national level.

The aftermath of the Spanish influenza, coupled with the economic impacts of World War I made 1919 a year of challenges and suffering for the nation of Australia. The Spanish influenza, which arrived in Australia alongside returned soldiers, killed over 12,000 Australians in 1919 (Curson & McCracken, 2006), and affected millions of Australians in many different aspects. The war-caused pandemic added to the nation’s grief and mourning, and also interfered with education, worship and the economy of various industries (due to the closure of schools, churches and various places of recreation for quarantine purposes) (Hobbins, 2019).

Economically speaking, 1919 was a challenging year for Australia, with inflation rates rising to cover war-related debts. Many Australians suffered, unable to afford goods and services. This was the beginning of the Great Depression (National Museum Australia, 2019). In regard to Australia’s political state, World War I can be viewed as the beginning of Australia’s national identity. Having only declared Federation in 1901, Australia was still establishing itself when the Great War broke out. However, Australia’s involvement in World War I, particularly in the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles “…transformed its place in the world…” (Cotton, 2018). This event resulted in Australia and other self-governing British countries contributing more to the decisions made by the British Empire from 1919 onwards (Cotton, 2018). However, this sole positive component of 1919 for Australia as a nation is severely out-weighed by the challenges and suffering that resulted from the Spanish influenza pandemic and the Great Depression.

Allied victory ended the Great War, but did not bring an end to the suffering and challenges of Australia’s people. The experiences of countless Australians in 1919 clearly express this perspective. The social, economic and national issues within this time-period and the physical, psychological and emotional struggles of World War I veterans corroborate this viewpoint. Despite the few positive outcomes of 1919, the challenges and suffering undergone by Australians were still immense. Therefore, the frame of reference is clearly accurate.

References

  1. 1918: Australians in France - Home at Last - the Australians Return | The Australian War Memorial. (2019). Retrieved 30 September 2019, from https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/1918/victory/returnhome
  2. Address on Repatriation and Demobilization by John Monash to Divisional and Brigade Commanders on 26 November 1918, pp. 19–20, 24–25, 30. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1341638
  3. Allam, L. (2014). The History of Forgetting, from Shell Shock to PTSD. Retrieved 15 October 2019, from https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/hindsight/the-history-of-forgetting/5744242
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  8. Curthoys, A. (2019). National Narratives, War Commemoration, and Racial Exclusion in a Settler Society: The Australian Case. In A. Curthoys, Becoming Australia (pp. 174-191).
  9. Centenary of Repatriation: It Began with a Homecoming | Sir John Monash Centre. (2018). Retrieved 15 October 2019, from https://sjmc.gov.au/centenary-repatriation-began-homecoming/
  10. Fallows, C. (2019). Love & War: Stories of War Brides from the Great War to Vietnam. Retrieved 16 October 2019, from https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/love-and-war-stories-of-war-brides-20020518-gdfafa.html
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Sufferings and Challenges of Australia’s First World War Veterans. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/sufferings-and-challenges-of-australias-first-world-war-veterans/
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Sufferings and Challenges of Australia’s First World War Veterans [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/sufferings-and-challenges-of-australias-first-world-war-veterans/
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