On November 11th annually, we remember the end of World War One. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918, millions of men around the world laid down their guns. The horrible, horrible conflict was over – at least for another short twenty years. That was the first Armistice Day, while the following year Armistice Day became more formalised, much as we know it today. This particular event is observed around the world. For Australia, most crowds prefer ANZAC Day, but observances are nonetheless held throughout the nation, which includes a dedicated time of silence.
Armistice Day later became known as Remembrance Day or even Poppy Day. We must recall that WWI ended with an armistice which is not a good way to finalise a war. The First Boer War (1880-81) was an armistice, which resulted in the Second Boer War (1899-1902). The Korean War ended the same with continual war footing as a result as was the German-French Armistice of June 1940 which ended with the Germans soon occupying the whole of France. And it was with WWI. In my opinion, WWII was just a continuation of the earlier world war. It was inevitable, what with the terrible demands made on a defeated Germany by the Versailles Treaty, (which was worse than what the Prussians demanded of the French after the their war of 1871), together with the American bankers calling in their German loans laid the way for social upheaval in Germany that could only result in either a Communist or National Socialist take over. It was of course the latter.
November 1918 was the time of great world-wide rejoicing at least on the victorious side, but one would suspect those Germans and their allies were relieved (except for the die-hards) that is was all over and it was time to rebuilt their lives and cities. It was no different in Tasmania, every little hamlet, village or city such as Hobart, Launceston, Devonport, Burnie and districts such as the Huon, west and east coasts, celebrated with festivities, dancing and music in the streets, school sports and holidays, church thanks-giving services, politicians giving speeches and parades. It was all over and then began the building of numerous memorials right around the State to those who served and those who died, some memorials grand, some small, but every community erected one. Such was the impact on us.
Tasmania’s contribution to the war was enormous when taking into account that we were a small community of just under 200,000. Official figures state that 13,500 of our men and nurses served overseas and on the seas (navy) and over the skies (air) of every theatre, Gallipoli, Palestine, Middle East, the Western Front, Africa and the Pacific. Again, official figures state that 2, 320 men died, but it would have been much higher, probably near 3,000 taking into account those Tasmanians who served not with Tasmanian units and those who died many years after returning home. I can recall when I was a boy growing up the 50s and early 60s how men suffered still from gassing they had received during the war. It is probable they died as their result of their war illnesses, but they would not be included in the casualty figures. There were many outstanding stories of bravery and eleven Victorian Crosses were awarded to Tasmanians during WWI. In the aftermath of the war, many men spent their final days in what were called the Asylum, unable to cope physically or mentally and many sadly, decided to end their own lives, something which is still a problem with returning veterans. Dealing with this contemporary problem is a massive challenge. And return they did, looking for jobs and help. The Repatriation Department was set up in April 1918 with permanent offices located in Elizabeth Street Hobart. The war itself was a huge challenge for society with all its massive demands including supporting the troops in the field both with goods and with funds. The war now over, posed different and further challenges. While the war ended, the problems did not.
A great deal of the helping the returning servicemen particularly those who returned damaged physically or mentally (or both) was left up to the families, especially their mother and father. One can only imagine the trauma and sadness that was experienced by our fellow Tasmanian families to have their sons return, many shattered by their experience. And in twenty year’s time it was all repeated.
It was a long time ago now, a hundred years, so why should we bother? How can we not pay homage? They were our brothers and sisters, they were part of the Tasmanian family. Remembrance Day is not highlighting war, although obviously that cannot be fully avoided, but it is more honouring those who served for whatever reason and those who did not return and those who did, affected by the war. It is a day of reflection and thinking of others and of those foundations which made our country.
Let us end with what was said by Tasmania’s highest ranking soldier of WWI, Major-General Sir John Gellibrand K.C.B. D.S.O. “We have lost so many whose lives promised to play a full and honourable part in carrying out the high ideals of our national motto. Many who survived have returned broken in health and prematurely aged and unfit to take their due share in the work of the community. Others may have fallen into the error of mistaking cause and effect and return without having realising their significance of what they took part in. These three factors carry a weight which cannot be minimised and their effect on our life as a community must be felt for many a log day. Our consolation and reward will come when the loyal spirit of co-operation, the disregard of petty motives, the unselfish devotion to a common cause, that characterised the work done throughout the war, became typical of our nation life in peace.”