Year

2004

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (Hons.)

Department

School of History and Politics

Abstract

The examination of bereavement during the First World War has been a relatively new contribution to the historiography of Australia's experience of war; however, many of these studies have primarily focussed on metropolitan areas and war widows. This thesis seeks to address three key areas of wartime bereavement - knowing, coping and remembering - from the perspective of parents and families in a rural region, the Illawarra, between 1914 and 1925. Local newspapers, letters, diaries, official documents and private records have been used to examine the experiences of the families of thirty-two men from the area who volunteered to join the First AIF, twenty-eight of whom did not return.

Traditional mourning rituals had centred on physical access to the bodies of the dead, knowledge of how and when they died and a grave site. During the war, the bodies of the dead were unavailable to the bereaved, the knowledge of how and when the men died was often limited (and in same cases was never known) and there was no grave site the bereaved could easily visit. Old forms of mourning were turned to new uses and new traditions were developed to allow the bereaved to make sense of the devastating, and unprecedented, human cost of modem trench warfare. For many parents, patriotism and faith in the validity of the war was not rhetoric. A belief in the nobility of sacrifice on foreign battlefields was one of the few ways sudden death on such a vast scale could be reconciled.

While many of the responses of the people of the Illawarra are reflective of wider trends, others were shaped by the particular characteristics of the region. Despite the inventiveness of new rituals of mourning, and the close support networks generated among the rural communities of the Illawarra, many of the bereaved of the Great War never fully recovered. For most, their loss defined, and diminished, the remainder of their lives.

Share

COinS