The Price of Peace


P2020It may be that, on a daily basis, I take our country’s peace for granted rather than give thanks for it. Yes, it has things that could be done better or differently, but overall we are indeed the Lucky Country when it comes to peace. Yes, I am aware that our Indigenous Australians paid a high price when the country was settled and since. However, many people have come to our shores to find peace and safety, escaping persecution or wars. I certainly don’t subscribe to the “if you don’t love it, leave” philosophy. I often wonder whether people with those bumper stickers would immediately leave their spouses/partners the minute they had a disagreement. So, yes, I give thanks that we live on an island continent far from many of the world’s trouble spots.

bottle tree plaqueBWcrop

The memorial plaque for James Thomas Paterson on Roma’s bottletree planting in honour of its World War I Diggers

Since we became a nation in 1901, and even before, our people have been involved in wars, largely to support the Empire of which we were a part. Many of our people paid a high price: loss of life, incapacity and physical handicaps, loss of family members, post-traumatic stress, domestic violence, loss of human potential. As so many were lost on foreign battlefields with little chance that family members would ever be able to visit their graves (where they even exist), the role of war memorials has played a huge role as a locus of bereavement and recognition of service. Is there a town in the country where one can’t be found? I suspect not.

Maintaining peace can be as strenuous as winning a war. Margaret MacMillan, Canadian Historian.

Ancestors and the Price of Peace

It seems likely that most Australian families have members who volunteered to serve or were enlisted. Perhaps mine is somewhat unusual because with so many railwaymen in protected or essential service, branches of the family tree had little or no representation. It’s for this reason that I’ve been less inclined to engage with Anzac Day ceremonies because I feel like a fraud.

It wasn’t until I lived in Milne Bay in the early 1970s that the full sense of the war in Papua New Guinea became clearer to me despite previously reading books and poetry about it. I wrote about that here. Similarly touring the Western Front in Europe brought the loss to humanity overwhelmingly evident.

DSC_0591

The memorial overlooks Milne Bay: a far more tranquil scene than 77 years ago.

Each year the Australian and New Zealand genealogy bloggers typically post a story about ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day. You can see some of mine by searching in the box in the top right.

The price of peace paid by my families include the deaths of James Paterson[i] (grandson of George and Mary Kunkel) and James Gavin[ii] (grandson of Denis and Ellen Gavin) during World War I. Hugh Moran[iii] was taken Prisoner of War in Italy and Germany during World War II for several years. William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel was Missing in Action in the Korean War and his family never knew what happened beyond the firefight when he was captured.

It’s hard to imagine what their families went through both during the war and afterwards. Letters found in the service records can be heartbreaking.

Personal thoughts

medal3 cropMy paternal grandfather served in World War I, however I have no memory of him ever attending an Anzac Day service, although he was a member of the Returned Servicemen’s League/

As a child, I remember seeing men with war injuries (missing arms or legs), selling newspapers on the street corner. Or men hitting the bottle or drunk – drowning their memories no doubt.  We came to a better understanding of the Bombing of Darwin once we moved to the Northern Territory to live.  Or realising that my husband would have “won” the national service lottery for Vietnam if his official place of abode during university hadn’t been Papua New Guinea.

I remember Dad telling me that he couldn’t attend the Victory in the Pacific celebrations in Brisbane because he was on shift with the railways at the time. Or hearing a (very) little about his knowledge of the Battle of Brisbane.. the conflict between Australian servicemen and the Americans who were based here and thought to be “overpaid, oversexed and over here”. I’ve also realised I need to ask mum what she did on VP day.

VP Day Brisbane

Victory in the Pacific celebrations Brisbane from awm.gov.au. Out of copyright.

It’s also interesting to observe that the practice of having cadet corps in high schools seems to have largely disappeared over the decades. When I was at high school many schools, and I’d suggest all private schools, had their own army or air force cadets.

Those families with serving men and women across the decades will have quite a different experience from mine. It doesn’t change that I am very grateful indeed to live in a peaceful country,  thanks in part to the high price that has been paid.

You can read some of my past posts for Anzac Day or Remembrance Day by using the search bar on the top right of this blog, or the drop down categories box– something else to do in our covid-isolation?

What is your families’ tradition of military service and what price was paid to gain peace?

For some sources to use when searching for Australian Military History and service.

Australian War Memorial

Commonwealth War Graves Commission for deaths and places of burial or memorials.

National Archives of Australia: Attestation documents digitised for WWI service people and some for later conflicts.

Quote from https://www.brainyquote.com

[i] 05 April 1917 Age 28 VILLERS-BRETONNEUX MEMORIAL http://cwgc.org

[ii] 19 July 1916 Age 30 RUE-PETILLON MILITARY CEMETERY, FLEURBAIX I. K. 39.from http://cwgc.org

[iii] https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/DetailsReports/ItemDetail.aspx?Barcode=4850146&isAv=N

13 thoughts on “The Price of Peace

    • Yes that’s very true. I suppose they kept some dignity in their independence. It’s such a tragedy to think of young men losing limbs, eyesight or severe burns. No wonder some of them hit the drink.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My great uncle, Vernon Ware, left England to fight in the Boer War in South Africa. Instead of going home he went to live in Australia. In 1914 he signed up straight away and travelled to Gallipoli. He died in Egypt in 1916. My grandfather, his brother in Canada was his closest relative so Vernon’s medals and dead man’s penny were sent to him. I volunteer at a former War Hospital in England where many Australian soldiers recovered or died so when we set up an exhibition I put Vernon’s medals on show to represent the other Australian soldiers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for getting in touch. The story of the men lost can be so poignant. Thanks for sharing your great uncle’s story. I’m pleased that you have preserved his medals and it’s touching to think that others see them too. I wonder which hospital it is …I guess there were many.

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  2. I have military ancestors too, like most families. I am proud of the women who were left at home to take care of families, and extended families, the best they could with what they could get. I’m also proud of my grandfathers brother who was rejected when tried to enlist. He quit his job as manager of a bank and became administrator of the Red Cross. Before the war even ended he set up a Hospice as temporary lodging for returning soldiers heading west. He got help for wounded soldiers and their dependents. He also conceived of the idea of Sheltered Workshops where soon he had over forty men deemed unfit for work earning an honest living along commercial lines.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An interesting, reflective post. I wonder what your railway ancestors would think today if they were to find themselves on frontlines, rather than “back home,” in the C19 battle — which is how essential railroad and subway workers are regarded here in NYC and the U.S.. Different times make for different heroes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree Molly. There are a lot more frontline heroes right now that go largely unnoticed eg family who have to go only between work and home because if they get sick there’ll be all sorts of practical repercussions in terms of availability of things we rely on. Without a doubt the medical and nursing staff are “in the trenches” but they are also dependent on the services of others.

      Liked by 1 person

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