Remembrance Day: the effects of war on Australian society


Dr Michael McKernan and poetry by Peter Alliott

National Archives of Australia, National office

11 November 2015

This is a transcript of Remembrance Day: the effects of war on Australian society - presented by Dr Michael McKernan and poetry by Peter Alliott at the National Archives of Australia on Remembrance Day, 11 November 2015.

Louise Doyle: I am responsible for access and communications. I'd like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

Today's special Remembrance Day event, the Effects of War on Australian Society with Dr Michael McKernan, is particularly poignant as we commemorate Anzacs at Gallipoli 100 years ago. We now know that on 11 November 1915 Indigenous Australians were also in service, fighting alongside non-Indigenous Australians.

This morning we welcome both historian Dr Michael McKernan and Narrabundah College student, Peter Alliott, to lead our commemoration. Thank you all for joining us. Michael will deliver his presentation first and then after questions, Peter will present his award-winning poem before we prepare for eleven o'clock.

Dr Michael McKernan, a former academic, is a consultant historian and the author or editor of more than a dozen books on Australian military and social history. He's also an experienced ABC broadcaster. Dr McKernan was the National Archives' inaugural Frederick Watson Fellow in 1999. His research focused on the return of Australian prisoners of war after World War II and the book This War Never Ends: the pain of separation and return was published in 2001. Dr McKernan's most recent book is an exploration of the impact of war on one Australian family over the 20th century. The book was published by Scribe just a few weeks ago, titled When This Thing Happened, the story of a father, a son and wars that changed them.

Now as part of the planning for today's event, we mentioned to Dr McKernan that the Repatriation Department files for Charles Bean had been identified in our project to digitise a selection of repatriation files as part of our centenary of ANZAC commemorative program. Charles Bean was, as I'm sure you all know, Australia's official war correspondent, and became one of Australia's most respected and influential historians. The National Archives has only just opened Bean's repatriation files and we have invited Dr McKernan to be the first historian to see them and I very much look forward to hearing his insights.

But before we invite Dr McKernan to speak, I'd like to mention that the repatriation project we are undertaking is going well and I can say it's no mean task. In 2013 the National Archives received Commonwealth funding of $3.4 million over three years to preserve, describe and digitise selected first convoy World War I repatriation records and make these images and associated metadata available online for all. The project is due to finish on 30 June 2016.

We have a target of 5000 digitised files by then. Now you might think that that's a very small number in relation to the more than 600,000 files that we have, but I can tell you the majority of these files have a considerable number of folios, some upwards of 300 or more and Michael knows this only too well. So there's an extraordinary amount of work to be done. So there'll be 5000 digitised, maybe a little bit more, by the end of June next year.

By mid-October this year ‒ the National project team and this work is happening around Australia in our state and territory offices, with additional support from a very enthusiastic band of volunteers down in Melbourne ‒ have repackaged 193,600 items. They've described 185,988 items (and Michael's looking quite surprised here) ‒ and digitised at this stage 3258 items. So that's the equivalent of almost half a million digitised pages, so a substantial achievement, as I'm sure you'll agree.

So at this point, please welcome Dr Michael McKernan.


Michael McKernan: Thank you Louise. I was going to begin my talk by saying in 1999 I was appointed the inaugural Frederick Watson Fellow at the National Archives of Australia, which was a great privilege and enormous resource for me and Louise mentioned the book that came out of that, which was about the return of Australian prisoners of war in the hands of the Japanese, to their families. What I'm trying to say this morning is that war does not end when peace is declared. Today, on 11 November, we celebrate the coming of the armistice which stopped the guns in France and in Belgium in 1918, to the relief of all.

But I have permanently in my mind a letter that came across from the Methodist chaplain general who was standing in a small French cemetery into which some war graves had been added on the morning of the 11 November 1918, standing in front of a grave. He subsequently wrote to the parents of the boy who was in that grave, telling them that he understood their grief and their suffering and as he was before their boy's grave he said:

and I heard this most extraordinary cacophony of noise coming from the village surrounding me and bells were ringing and train whistles were blowing and people were screaming and I realised that peace had come and I realised also that, for you, peace will never come, because you are the grieving parents of a boy who'll never return home and I understand so perfectly your mood and sentiment because my boy, Nigel, aged 19, lies next to your boy in his grave.

For me, that has been a moment of real insight and so that was why that book was called This War Never Ends and that is why anybody who goes to war, for them it never ends, nor for their families. Louise was kind enough to talk about my new book, which is the story of one family whose son, Joe, there, went to Vietnam as a conscript and became the most wounded Australian soldier from that war in my view and lived without short-term memory and in a wheelchair, cared for by his parents for the rest of his life, which was 43 years. So if you think I haven't got qualifications to talk about the impact of war on society, I'm sorry.

In This War Never Ends I wrote, 'Australians go away for war and they are expected to come home to a clean slate and a new beginning. The legacy of war might mean supporting the widows and children or helping men in hospital wards or those temporarily down on their luck. For the rest, those who fought must simply get on with being civilians again'. We look at the statistics of the First World War, 60,000 Australians killed, at least 150,000 severely wounded. We rarely think of the wounded. The first Victorians to return home came off the hospital ships at Port Melbourne in August 1915 ‒ August 1915 ‒ and bizarrely, were then driven through the city to be gawked at by a huge crowd lining the streets behind the barricades.

Most of those in the cars and ambulances had their arms in slings or their heads bandaged and I'm quoting The Argus now, '…there was hardly a car which did not have at least one pair of crutches projecting over the side. One man in particular', The Argus continued, 'excited special sympathy. He wore a long muffler over the lower part of his face, which had been almost entirely shot away and he was going to live in that condition for the remainder of his life'.

Thereafter, these melancholy processions were a fairly regular thing in Melbourne and other Australian cities. Another hospital ship arrived in Melbourne a fortnight after the first, with another procession through the town and then more in September and October. But these were the visible wounds. At the display at the Australian War Memorial, in the new First World War galleries, is a little machine that was designed to give electric shocks to victims of shellshock as a means of returning these suffering men to some kind of normality. The machine reminds us that the mental scars of war, any war, are probably many times greater than the physical scars in terms of the number of men affected.

My book, This War Never Ends, tells of a reunion of men who had returned as prisoners of war nearly 50 years earlier, so these were men who had returned to Australia in 1945. The wives had been invited along to the reunion, no longer a boozy thing on ANZAC Day, but they tended now to go away for a week or so to some resort place, you know, a motel on the beach or something like that.

One night after dinner, the men had gone off to do something, cards, billiards, maybe a bit of both. The women were still at the tables enjoying coffee and a nightcap. One woman, 50 years after remember ‒ 50 years after ‒ one woman was near the end of her tether and decided to open up. Her husband still had terrible nightmares from his years of captivity, she told her friends. Were there any of the other men like this, she asked. She was looking down, not at her companions because she was so embarrassed to be talking about this.

Hearing nothing, in a long silence, eventually the woman looked up. She found, to her astonishment, that all the women were in tears, locked in their own sad thoughts. Almost every man, almost every one of these women's husbands, suffered the same violent and debilitating nightmares every few weeks or every few months, many long years after they had been released from captivity. The community, which includes its historians, had until very recently almost entirely dismissed the deep mental anguish of those who had returned from war.

Two men have done so much recently to remedy this neglect. Barry Heard in Well Done, Those Men, which is a terrific book, writes searingly and honestly of his own terrible battles with post-traumatic stress disorder. Like many national servicemen conscripts, Barry Heard served in Vietnam and then on return, immediately left the army and found himself a civilian again. He was alone, without his mates, many of whom had been killed in one awful attack in which he participated and witnessed. He had been left to fend for himself.

He couldn't go home, he didn't want to go home, he didn't want his parents to see him in the condition he was and so he drifted. He had 10 different jobs in his first 10 years out of the army. He then went to university and got a degree and a teaching qualification and taught for 10 years and then he found himself a middle-level manager. But Barry could not escape his memories.

On the anniversary each year of the battle which saw so many of his mates killed, Barry collapsed. He could not cope. He consulted a psychiatrist and this is incredible, unbelievable, who told him to simply man up ‒ a psychiatrist ‒ increasing Barry's sense of shame and failure. Finally Barry was admitted into the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, into a locked ward for severely mentally ill veterans. Though it was an incredible struggle and having lived alone with his PTSD for 30 years, Barry was at last on the road to recovery. I had lunch with him in Melbourne last week and his recovery is very good.

Equally powerful is John Cantwell's magnificent book Exit Wounds. John Cantwell was a gifted soldier, ambitious, skilled and caring for his men. He would be one of the few Australian soldiers to have enlisted as a private and to have reached the rank of major general. John was destined to be named Chief of Army as a climax to a magnificent career, yet he was a very sick man, as he knew and could not accept the responsibility about to be thrust upon him. Instead of being considered for the top job in the Australian Army, instead he found himself in a psychiatric hospital.

Serving with the British army in Iraq in 1991, Cantwell, in charge of a vehicle driven and protected by two British soldiers, blundered into a minefield. Feeling responsible for the lives of these two soldiers, he walked the vehicle out of the minefield, in other words, he walked in front of it as it reversed out. So he was liable to strike a mine and be blown up at any second, but he felt that's what he needed to do to protect his soldiers. This was not only incredibly brave; it also defined an officer's responsibility and duty to his men.

As Australian commander in Afghanistan in 2010, John Cantwell insisted on personally identifying the body of each Australian killed there and leading the farewell service conducted before each coffin was flown back to Australia. Cantwell knew his men well and each death hit him very hard. Whether his PTSD came solely from his trauma in Iraq or was the cumulative effect of long years of soldiering and leadership cannot now be known. But until he had admitted he was extremely unwell, could return to something like good heath be contemplated.

I was lucky enough last November to be on Gallipoli with John Cantwell doing some filming for 60 Minutes and I had the opportunity of spending some good time with him. He is a remarkable Australian.

What we know about PTSD is as yet quite inadequate to assist men and women in its grip. We can assume that PTSD was a major factor in the illnesses and adjustment difficulties of a high number of Australian soldiers who served in both the First and Second World Wars, it is just that it was not named and, more sadly, even diagnosed then.

Here at the Archives, some years ago, 2008 in fact, a marvellous and gripping exhibition called Shell-shocked, had high visitor numbers in Canberra and the very many venues around Australia to which it travelled. It only returned to the Archives last year. The exhibition attempted to cover many of the after-war experiences of Australians and to tell something of the story of the coming of peace. It was opened in Canberra by Prime Minister Rudd. Though dealing in essence with PTSD, so novel was the concept then that we did not identify it by name in the exhibition.

In the exhibition's catalogue I wrote:

…when Australia went to war again in 1939, there was no widespread community jubilation as there had been in 1914. People in 1939 knew about war and innocent empire patriotism now had no part in Australia's response to war. Australia was a different country in 1939 from the place it had once been in the optimistic years of the early 20th century. How could the parents and brothers and sisters of Jack Fothergill have possibly rejoiced in the coming of war again? Jack Fothergill was one of the first Australians to enlist, for him on 17 August 1914. He landed at Gallipoli at about 8:00am on 25 April 1915 and was dead by…

midday, killed on Pine Ridge. His death was confirmed to his parents nearly two months later, during which time they had been waiting in hope and expectancy for news. 'On ANZAC Day thereafter, only missing in 1917, his family placed an In Memoriam notice in Melbourne's Argus' on 25 April each year. 'It was almost always a poem, always especially written each year' ‒ they never doubled up.

Six years today since our great soldier fell

Dearer to memory than words can tell

And another eight lines that year ‒ 1921.

There is a grave I have longed to visit

In a spot far across the sea ‒ 1927.

But of course there was no grave, as Jack Fothergill's body was never recovered.

Wherever we go

Whatever we do

Our thoughts, dear Jack

Are always of you ‒ 1931.

The last In Memoriam notice to Jack Fothergill was published in the Melbourne Argus in 1948. It had been a continuous run for all those years. That was the grief of those parents. The last one was published the year that Jack Fothergill's mother died.

Could the Fothergill family be thought of as genuine victims of the war? Of course they were. Mother and father, brother and sisters, they lived with their grief as a constant and permanent part of their lives. They grieved too for all the other families when war came again, because they knew the sorrow and suffering it would cause. Because when world war came again, there were still thousands of men from the First World War in the repatriation hospitals and hostels, still in care, still suffering. They were lost to the community, kept out of sight, largely lost to their families, kept away from home. They were war's dreadful victims.

We lost sight of them, the families of those killed and the men and women still severely unwell from their war service. The war memorials recorded the dead of war as if they were its only victims. Men and women who had served knew so much better. Indeed, official war correspondent and official war historian, Charles Bean, knew that better than most. He decreed that the national Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial, which he would create with John Treloar, would list (would list) the names of those killed in battle and those who died of their wounds in the years immediately after the war; there would be no distinction made on the Roll of Honour between the death of a man in battle or the death of a man in hospital later on, or at home for that matter.

They started keeping a card index of those who died of war-related causes at the War Memorial and I think it finished around about 1926 because the staff at the Memorial were simply overwhelmed by the task of keeping up those records. So they gave up and as you would know, the Roll of Honour now covers only those who were killed in battle. The task was, as I said, simply overwhelming. One of Bean's biographers, Peter Rees, writes that four years at the front had given Bean a horror of war that affected him for the rest of his life. He had witnessed shocking injuries and still carried a bullet in his thigh, which he took with him to his death.

But now we are to gain a new insight into this post-war world, in an initiative that Louise has already described, that I believe has the potential to completely re-interpret and re-write our knowledge of Australia after 1918. I think this is one of the most significant projects that has ever occurred in Australian history and of equal importance to the Archives as the digitisation of the service records. It will be an incredible resource.

As Louise said, the National Archives is in the process of digitising and then placing online the repatriation files of men of the first contingent, who sailed from their home ports in late October 1914. These files will contain an amazing array of information about the health and circumstances of each veteran who returned to Australia and sought assistance from the Repatriation Department.

Today I will talk about just one of those files, perhaps one of the shortest, this one. It contains only 171 folios. I looked at another in preparing for this talk and it contained 469 folios. That's Bean's general file, this here is his hospital file, which is much bigger. I won't be referring to the hospital file today, the complexity overwhelmed me and I only had access to it for a few days and there are very important things in it, but I'm referring only to the general file today.

Charles Bean left Australia with the first contingent and returned to Australia in May 1919. He was appointed official historian later in 1919, having recommended the task to the government. In other words, he said there's a job to be done, oh thanks I'll do it. So he started in 1919, the final volume of his history was published in 1942 when Charles was 63. He would live for another 26 years.

Bean's Repat file opens in 1964, that's, as you can perceive, very late. The first part of the file is the evidence of his war service, that's just to prove that he was entitled to repatriation consideration, though his movements to and from the front line are not in any sense complete. They do show Bean's continuous service in hazardous and often dangerous circumstances.

The file really begins on 20 May 1964 when Bean's wife, Ethel, always known as Effie ‒ they had married in 1921 ‒ made a claim for assistance on behalf of her husband. Now here I have to come clean. Well after Charles Bean had died, I made the acquaintance of his literary executor, Angus McLachlan, who will come into this story and through Angus I met Mrs Bean and I had regular meetings with Mrs Bean. I saw her in hospital; I was just about to go overseas. She was in hospital from which she would not leave and she died, as I'll be saying, in 1991. So I knew personally both of the people I'm talking about and I needed to disclose that.

So she had made a claim on 20 May 1964 for assistance on behalf of her husband. She stated in a record of evidence that her husband had served during the war in Gallipoli, France, the Middle East, Belgium and England and that he had sustained a gunshot wound to his leg from his service on Gallipoli. He was so lucky, as the file discloses, because it was so close to an artery, he could have died and the whole story of Australia in war would have been different.

She also stated that Sir Charles Bickerton Blackburn was Bean's personal physician and indeed the file will later tell us, as one of its remarkable revelations, that Blackburn had served as Bean's doctor for 60 years by 1964. I don't know if this is an Australian record for patient-doctor relationships, but it does strike me as extraordinary. Mrs Bean also stated that, quote 'I consider that my husband's long years of arduous work and research in the service of his country has brought about his present state of health'. I think that would be incontestable. He wrote six volumes himself of the official history and checked every fact that he presented and every fact that the authors of the other five volumes presented and wrote a good part of the other five volumes, I suspect. So I would think that was a modest and fair claim.

What was that state of health? A few days later, Dr Ian Miller, appointed by Repat, examined Charles Bean. He reported that Bean suffered from four difficult and dangerous conditions: cerebral vascular insufficiency, renal difficulties, prostate removal and a gunshot wound to his left thigh. He also wrote that Bean was 'aged 85 years, a tall, lean, old looking man, well cared for' ‒ Bean is still at home at this stage ‒ 'well cared for, intermittent hand tremor, some evidence of old stroke on right side, powers of locomotion are nil, general weakness and incoordination, obvious difficulty with thought, no spontaneous speech, courteous and gentlemanly bearing' - I love that, courteous and gentlemanly bearing ‒ 'signs his name with great difficulty'. Charles Bean was a very sick man. It strikes me as particularly sad that a man who had written how many millions of words could no longer even sign his own name simply and easily.

The file then discloses that on 5 June, about two weeks after the initial request for assistance from Mrs Bean, the Repatriation Board considered Bean's eligibility for assistance and determined that, quote, 'his present disabilities were not due to his service during the 1914-18 war and therefore the board was unable to admit him to the Repatriation General Hospital at Concord' as Mrs Bean had requested. This determination was given to Mrs Bean personally by Mr R Watson, acting assistant director-general, benefits ‒ acting deputy commissioner, benefits, sorry ‒ and Miss Ryan, senior social worker. As the file later reveals, Mrs Bean was far from happy with this determination.

A report of the visit to the Bean's home at Collaroy on 5 June 1964 makes unhappy reading. This is the social worker, Helen Ryan, writing: 'Dr Bean was dressed and up and about when we arrived, although he is incapable of moving any distance; it is not possible to hold a conversation with Dr Bean'. So the visitors from Repat turned their attention to Mrs Bean, who was reported as 'a charming person, obviously devoted to her husband. She said that she was surprised that nothing could be done for her husband after all his service and she was sorry for the trouble that had been caused by the application, of which Dr Bean knew nothing'. So you're annoyed that your request for assistance has been denied, but because you're a gentle, loving Australian woman, you apologise for making the application and giving some trouble to people.

The report continues: 'It was pointed out to Mrs Bean that although the department was unable to accept liability for the doctor's treatment, we were able to and would like to help in finding a suitable, if it became necessary, to arrange doctor's admission to a suitable convalescent nursing home. It was pointed out that the responsibility for the fees would be hers'.

Helen Ryan, the social worker, in a separate report of the same date, 9 June 1964, gives a less happy picture of Mrs Bean's circumstances. She wrote: 'Dr and Mrs Bean reside in a comfortable brick cottage at Collaroy' ‒ yes, it was a very lovely, small house in Collaroy. She had left Charles' study exactly as he had left it when I visited, when I saw it and even down to the little Heckler foot warmer under his desk. Nothing in the study was changed since he left it. 'The house was neatly kept' ‒ this is back to Helen Ryan ‒ 'the house was neatly kept and Dr Bean appeared to be receiving excellent nursing care from his wife' ‒ who was then 70 years of age ‒ '…She still drives the car, does the housework and shopping and cares for the patient meticulously, not only during the day, but much of the night. Mrs Bean is now tending to live in the past, has not really accepted her husband's present physical condition and is quite unwilling to take help from her immediate family or anybody else. At present Mrs Bean feels that the Repatriation Department has rejected her husband and has indicated to her daughter, Mrs Le Couteur, that she wants little to do with the department in the future'. You can understand why.

Mrs Bean's own doctor wondered how she could keep on going with the full-time care of her husband. Helen Ryan reported that 'the Beans had no financial worries, they were on the telephone and have a car', apparently a sign of some wealth in 1964. Dr Bean had been receiving £10 per week as an honorarium from the government, but this had been increased to £25 a week at the instigation of a friend, almost certainly Bean's literary executor, Angus McLachlan. Mrs Le Couteur, Bean's daughter, said that Effie and Charles believed that the government had increased the allowance because of their admiration for Dr Bean's work and they would refuse the grant if they discovered it had been increased through the intercession of a friend.

Mrs Le Couteur also told the social worker that 'her mother is a difficult person to please, wants other people to do things exactly the way she does and works ceaselessly'. The social worker concluded 'it would seem that Mrs Bean will continue to cope as at present for as long as possible, I propose to visit Mrs Bean again at a later date to see how she is managing'. File closed? Well no.

Charles Bean's condition deteriorated rapidly after this and he was taken to Mona Vale Hospital close to his home. Angus McLachlan, Bean's vigilant friend, was 56 years of age in 1964 and a senior executive at John Fairfax, publishers of the Sydney Morning Herald. As I said, I knew Angus McLachlan and I'm pretty sure he told me that it was he who pressured the federal government to increase Bean's honorarium.

On 23 July 1964, the Minister for Repatriation, RW Swartz, a former soldier and prisoner of war of the Japanese, wrote to the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, referring to a discussion between the two of them, referencing a discussion that they'd already had, about medical and hospital treatment for Dr Bean. It would seem from this letter that Menzies initiated the conversation, I suspect at the instigation of Angus McLachlan, who knew Menzies quite well. Swartz's letter continued arrangements will be made for the provision of hospital and medical facilities under the Act of Grace provision. Well that was something the Repatriation Board hadn't thought of.

The deputy commissioner in Sydney was currently in contact with Mona Vale Hospital to see if Dr Bean can be transferred to a suitable repatriation hospital. In any case, the department would assume full responsibility for any fees and expenses incurred while Dr Bean was at Mona Vale. Doctors reported that Bean's condition had improved so that by 2 September, a move to Concord was considered possible. Mrs Bean approved the move and Helen Ryan reported that she was now more kindly disposed to the Repat Department and why not?

The file also noted that at the personal request of the Minister, 'we have given him progress reports every few days regarding Dr Bean's condition, in order that he could personally keep the Prime Minister informed'. Dr Bean was transferred to RGH Concord on 7 September 1964. He died there on 30 August 1968. Also on 7 September, Repat advised Mrs Le Couteur that if required, official transport will be provided to transport Mrs Bean to and from hospital to visit her husband. Mrs Le Couteur undertook to convey this offer to Mrs Bean and provided her response. It was a long way from Collaroy to Concord and Mrs Bean accepted the offer.

It was arranged that she would visit he husband on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week. She would be picked up at 1.10pm, arriving at Concord at about 2.20pm. The car would remain at the hospital while Effie was with her beloved Charles and would normally leave for home at about 4pm. Arrangements were made to check with the hospital daily to avoid the car being sent to Mrs Bean after her husband's death, because everybody was certain he was going to die very soon after he got into Concord.

Robert Menzies retired as prime minister in January 1966 but there was never any change to the arrangements for Charles and Effie Bean under subsequent administrations. Ethel Clara Bean died on 2 July 1991 aged 97 years. Charles Bean was a prominent Australian who had given remarkable service to Australia in his lifetime and is properly remembered as one of the most important and influential figures in the story of Australia in the First World War. His Repat file shows that he received special treatment and I don't think anyone would argue with that. It also shows what a mountain of paperwork Repat generated regarding its members receiving treatment and what stories will emerge when all the files that are currently being digitised become readily available to researchers.

Without the determination of Charles Bean to tell the most thorough story of the Australian and Imperial Force, it is likely that the Repat files and many other records of Australians in war would long ago have been consigned to the dustbins of history. It is appropriate that his file, one of the first to be released, is released online today, Remembrance Day. Thank you.


Louise Doyle: Please thank Dr Michael McKernan again. That was just fantastic.


Louise Doyle: I just think Michael is extraordinary, that for a few days of looking through those many folios, that you've gleaned out of them already some really poignant and really heart-felt aspects of people's lives, the lives of the Beans later in life and all of those years when, in effect, Dr Charles Bean really should have been in repatriation, from the minute he returned to Australia. So we do have to say that recordkeeping became a little more focused ‒ information that was put down in those documents, as you've read some of them out to us, was far more comprehensive than what happened from 1914 through to 1919. So these files, as Michael said, are an extraordinary and rich field of material that is going to really influence and impact our understanding of the 20th century and of course, our social and war history combined. So thank you.

Questions please, by anybody?

Arthur Skimin: Thanks Michael. My name is Arthur Skimin. I just was reflecting on other people that served during World War II, similar to Dr Bean in the fact of Damien Parer and the treatment that his widow received from Repat and the public service and the efforts that different politicians made to get just treatment for people left behind after wars.

Michael McKernan: Yeah, Arthur - I've known Arthur for a very long time and I would think, I know there are people from the Department of Veterans Affairs in the room, so I have to be fairly careful about what I say, but I don't think that Repat is going to come out terribly well from this release. To be frank, I've done a bit of work over the years with a Melbourne firm of solicitors in appealing decisions against largely Vietnam veterans, but some Second World War veterans and we have won every case in which I've been involved. I'm not saying because I was involved, but we have won every case in which I was involved.

You served in Vietnam, I think, yeah. One was a man, claimed that he'd developing a drinking habit in Vietnam, in fact he'd become an alcoholic and the department rejected his claim because it was known that each man in Vietnam was allotted two cans of beer per day per man. I put this to veterans who had served in Vietnam. They said, what a lot of hooey, you could have as much beer as you wanted. So silly decisions were being made and the Bean file shows silly decisions, still. Here is one of the most eminent Australians who really made no money because he was working as a historian all that time and he just got a government salary and he gave out thousands of pounds, as his biographers show, to widows trying to educate their children. He gave money away and here at the end of his life, his wife asks can he go into RGH Concord? No, his illnesses are not war-related.

[Remembrance Day announcement]

Louise Doyle: We have time for one more question, if there's another question for Michael.

Michael McKernan: Stunned, thank you.

Louise Doyle: Okay, thank you.

So it now gives me great pleasure to introduce Peter Alliott. Peter is a student now at Narrabundah College. Last year, while attending Telopea Park School, he was awarded the 2014 Chief Minister's Anzac [Spirit] Prize for his poem, The Forgotten Word. His poem most appropriately concludes our commemoration this morning. Please welcome Peter Alliott.


Peter Alliott: Thank you Louise. Upon reading your programs today, I'm sure there was one name that you were unable to recognise. I can assure you that Dr Michael McKernan is a very well-renowned historian. In all sincerity and seriousness, I'd like to thank him for his work and for sharing it today. It is now with great honour that I will read my poem that I wrote a little while ago, about a year now.

The Forgotten Word

A young boy enlists,

Free, gentle, never kissed.

He says his farewells and leaves,

As he dreams of the forgotten word.

A young oğlan enlists,

Kind, fresh, never kissed.

He packs his bags and departs,

As he dreams of the forgotten word.

Willing but disillusioned,

Adventurous but tricked,

Doomed due to their enrolment,

They dream of the forgotten word.

Packed into units like cattle,

Feeling lost, confused, scared,

They bravely embark to war,

And dream of the forgotten word.

Come April 1915,

He feels sand below his feet

And sees cliffs climbing the night.

He dreams of the forgotten word.

Come April 1915,

He feels rocks below his feet,

And sees waves crawling up sand.

He too dreams of the forgotten word.

His enemies loom in hills,

His enemies swarm beaches,

Yet the enemy is war,

As they dream of the forgotten word.

Soldiers swallowed by land and sea,

Men falling while survivors flee.

Brothers buck, brothers slaughter.

Too late for the forgotten word.

The purging pelt of rifle,

The staccato of men’s cries.

Death looming, inexorable.

Too late for the forgotten word.

Young blood shed, both lives lost.

In the driving rain they fall

The mud and dirt will be their pall

Too late for the forgotten word.

Two stories, one outcome.

Gallipoli, a sombre abattoir,

That makes us think:

Never too late for the forgotten word of peace.


Louise Doyle: Dr Michael McKernan, Peter Alliott, thank you. Please put your hands together to thank these two very special people on this commemorative day.


Louise Doyle: Now I think we have a couple of gifts, thank you, for Michael and for Peter. We'd like our photo.

Louise Doyle: [Laughs]. After the minute's silence, which is coming up in a few minutes, there'll be some refreshments served. But I think we have ‒ Shaun's going to give us a rundown on some other commemorative activities that are happening.

Shaun Rohrlach: I guess just to announce also we've got Life Interrupted: Gallipoli Moments which has been a collaborative exhibition that the National Archives and the State Library of New South Wales jointly curated. It was part of a larger exhibition that the library had on last year. It closes this Sunday, it's its last day and it's part of the last weekend's activities. We've got guided tours both on Saturday and Sunday. There's information on the website for booking, but the tours are at 11.30 and two o'clock on Saturday; 11.30, 12.30 and three o'clock on Sunday. We also have, at two o'clock on the Sunday, the Telopea Park School choir will be coming to sing ‒ they'll be performing here in the Menzies Room. So if you go to, the information is there to be able to make a booking and we hope that you'll be able to join us for that.

Also to mention that the Repat files that we've been talking about this morning, particularly Dr Bean's, are now online via RecordSearch and the online website. We do have a copy of the top Repat file over on the sideboard just over there that you're welcome to have a look at. Also, Anne-Marie Condé, if you could just put your hand up, who is our senior curator here at the Archives, has printed out the reference details if you'd like to grab a copy to be able to find that information online.

That's all the announcements. So we are a couple of minutes ahead. Maybe in that time, if there are any additional questions that people might have to ask of Michael, otherwise we will have a couple of minutes.

Louise Doyle: Or any questions for Peter.

Michael McKernan: Yeah, questions for Peter, yeah.

Shaun Rohrlach: I guess just on that, in terms of Peter and the poem, Peter is now at Narrabundah College, but last year was at Telopea School as one of the school captains and timed around the state visit of President Hollande from France, after the G20 conference last year. The National Archives actually collaborated with the French Archives through the French Embassy, with a school near Villers-Bretonneux, and there was a group of students from Telopea and from the school in France where we identified records, service records, of members of the RAF that had a French origin and undertook an education project around those records. As part of that, we also produced a video and it was Peter's poem that was read through that project.

If you go online to the Discovering Anzacs website, there is a link to that, where you can understand what we did in that project and also have a look at the video as well.

Michael McKernan: More interesting questions for you I'm sure.

Well I'll ask Peter a question then.

Michael McKernan: How did you do ‒ I mean that's an extraordinarily powerful poem ‒ what was the inspiration? What drove you to write that poem?

Peter Alliott: Actually, interestingly for you Michael, to begin with, I visited the War Memorial and had access to some transcripts of Bean's work which provided me with historical context, as well as some quite personal stories. So that helped me much on the emotional and historical side of things. The sort of text that we were provided with as a source of inspiration for the competition included the citation of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which is quite well known. I don’t know it off of the top of my head, but it goes something along the lines of the Australians who died at Gallipoli do not die in a place away from home, because their souls and their lives are welcomed into the arms of Turkey. So that's really what inspired my sort of approach from both sides of the Gallipoli campaign.

Michael McKernan: Excellent. Historians being what they are, there's a group of historians who are now saying Ataturk never wrote those words…

…and they're the most famous words and the best quoted words. Yes, mothers of Australia, rest easy because your boys lie here and will be cared for by Turkey forever. It's a beautiful sentiment. Even if he didn't write it, it doesn't matter.

Peter Alliott: Benefit of the doubt I think.

Michael McKernan: Paul Keating didn't write every word of the Unknown Australian Soldier speech, I can guarantee that.

But as soon as the prime minister gives that speech, it's his speech. If Ataturk didn't write those words, he allowed those words to be sent to Australia, therefore they're his words. End of story.

[Laughter, applause]

Michael McKernan: Now [laughs] another question for Peter, come on.

Peter Alliott: Or indeed for Michael…

Male: Michael.

Michael McKernan: Yes.

Male: Just a quick one. On the word love or peace, it was really demonstrated ‒ the Somme ‒  that an old lady from World War I, she came to a service in the Somme in 1976, ('75, '76) with her grandchildren, her husband. She was a frail little lady about five-foot-squat and out of her bag she produced a little tiny book, a Bible, and inside it was Private [McGurkin], I think it was McGurkin, don't ask me how to spell it, but she and her family were farmers and they found McGurkin injured in the Somme and took him back to rehabilitate him and let him get back to wherever he came from on the lines.

But in doing that, she fell in love with McGurkin and carried this little ‒ it was a prayer book ‒ all those years and in 1975, '76, produced it in a Catholic church in the Somme, with all the presence of grandchildren, little ones all the way up. So the word peace is a very significant word and in that case it was linked with the word love, and war isn’t part of that.

Peter Alliott: Mm, that's a beautiful anecdote. Thank you for sharing that.

Female: I went to an event recently that was put on by the Turkish Embassy and it was celebrating 100 years of peace with Australia. Again, I thought that was a nice perspective to have for that event.

Michael McKernan: Yeah, absolutely. I used to say that if I had one wish it would be that Australians, of Peter's generation, knew how much still Australian soldiers are loved in northern France and in Belgium. Now I know, having been to Turkey very many times, that that's exactly the same too in Turkey, not so much the soldiers in Turkey, they don’t distinguish between the visitors who come to Turkey to go to Gallipoli and the soldiers who went there to fight. When I was last in Turkey this year, our last function, I proposed a toast to the people of Turkey because they really are lovely, kind, gentle people, who didn't deserve the war that Peter has evoked for us so wonderfully today. They didn't deserve that war, they didn't know why Australians were invading their country and yet they treat us now with great love, I think, respect and dignity, which I think is just wonderful.

It's really the background to what you're writing about, isn't it? It's that lovely spirit. Peter's poem tells you that these are young men who don't know what they're doing, but they become something by what they did and they become, in Arthur's words, carriers now of a hope for peace and a deep wanting for love.

I think we're just about up.


[Remembrance Day announcement]

[One minute of silence observed]