52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History: Week 49: Historic national event

The topic for Week 49 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Historical Events. Describe a memorable national historical event from your childhood. How old were you and how did you process this event? How did it affect your family?

My first thoughts turned to large-scale events then I settled on something less obvious but with a more pervasive affect on the fabric of Australian homes.

AWM Image 012953 copyright expired. Bombs explode in Darwin Harbour during the bombing of Darwin 19 February 1942.

I belong to the baby boomer generation – the population explosion that occurred as war ended and people celebrated the return of peace. The war after the “war to end all wars” had once again left society in a state of turmoil and disruption. In Australia this was the first war to directly occur on Australian soil and in its near north including Papua New Guinea. Queensland, where my family lived, had masses of American service men stationed there en route to/from the battlefields of the Pacific. This in turn often led to resentment over the different entitlements of the Americans commonly said to be “over paid, over-sexed and over here” as the novelty of the differences drew a fan-club of young women and subsequently ship-loads of war brides to the US. Some significant conflicts also occurred between Australian and American servicemen over differences to racial attitudes and military discipline. One big event was called the Battle of Brisbane which stretched Brisbane police and MPs to the limit. Let’s face it, tensions run high in war-time even between allies.

However none of that is precisely what I wanted to talk about. Over the decades, historians have revealed the impact of war on the individual’s psychological well-being and not just on his/her body. This resulted in terrible times, not just for the returning soldiers but also their families, who had no real understanding of what they’d gone through. None of this directly affected my own family because as I’ve said before, my father was in a protected occupation and as such did not serve in the Defence Forces.

Image P00561.036 AWM copyright expired. Group portrait of Australian wives and babies of American soldiers leaving an Australian port for the United States.

The more overt physical consequences of the war were seen on the streets of Brisbane whenever you went into town in the 1950s. The severely injured returned servicemen were readily visible. They held the types of jobs available to men whose strength and capacity had been taken from them at the prime of their lives. You would most often see a returned Digger on the street corner selling newspaper –he would be missing a limb, leg and/or arm, or may be blind. These disabilities were all too common and in many ways, quite confronting.

Another symptom was a youngish-man completely drunk in the city in the middle of the afternoon. I think there was more social condemnation of people being drunk in public in those days, but I never remember picking up a vibe from my father that these guys were unsavoury. Being around men at work he would have understood a little of why they drank. It’s hard to explain the impact of seeing these men, drunk or physically incapacitated but I suppose the fact they I remember them even though I was only a small child indicates its significance to me personally. It’s only by contrasting the general good health of those we see in town today that one is reminded just how significant those injuries were and the consequences of their sacrifice on those young men’s lives.

3 thoughts on “52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History: Week 49: Historic national event

  1. When I was a child the mother of someone I knew had been an Australian war bride.It always seemed very exciting that she came from so far away. It’s interesting to read the story from an Australian perspective.


  2. Thanks Sheryl…somehow it surprised me to know you had known an Australian war bride, reversing the perspective. I wonder how those women felt as immigrants and their children as that bit different and a little exotic. Interesting how swapping these stories links us, isn’t it?


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