War Stories Are Like Deep Underground Rivers of Experiences - Sensitive And Personal And Part Of Your Family History
War Experiences are a network of experiences that flow like a deep underground river looking for an opportunity to rise to the surface. They are personal and sensitive but are as much a part of your family history as everything else. Telling the stories of your wartime experiences or giving the opportunity to other family members who gave to their country means so much. The life messages that will flow are powerful and will be valuable to all family members now and in the future. Let them be heard in the most sustaining format there is – a printed document.
Over the years I have watched as many young friends have gone to War and listened when they returned – but there never was a story. It caused to reflect on my experiences as a young trainee nurse at the Concord Repatriation Hospital where young soldiers who were injured in the Vietnam war recovered.
Young Vietnam Veterans
We heard many stories as we rubbed their backs, did their dressings or sat with them in the darkness of the ward after lights out. The psychological support we provided was just as vital to their rehabilitation as the medical care they received. Their stories bubbled out of them as if their experiences were a deep underground river gathering material from a network of sources. Their heads hung, and their tones were hushed as my peers and I allowed them to tell their story without interruption or judgement.
One young soldier was so thankful for the willingness of my ear. He said he could not tell his family of his experiences because of the shame and guilt he felt but also because he didn’t know how to control his feelings of confusion and anger in front of them. He knew his family was happy to have him back safe and were content to let the rest fade away – perhaps even afraid of what he might tell them.
Women’s Land Army
This resounded to me in recent years when an 81-year-old lady contacted me about recording her life story. I heard about her mother dying young and leaving her five children in the care of a father who was having difficulty coping, her struggles with school and relationships; but it wasn’t until she started recalling her wartime efforts that she started to cry.
My client joined the Women’s Land Army when she was 18 years of age and left her city home to work on farm jobs that normally strong men would do. We both laughed and cried as she shared the harshness of the working conditions, the friends she made (and the difficult personalities she met), the impossible jobs she had to perform and the social activities that the women invented to amuse themselves.
‘These stories are wonderful’ I said to her. ‘I expect your family knows them all’.
‘No’ she said. ‘They were never interested. This is the first time I have told anyone’.
It was now my turn to cry. This wonderful woman had waited a lifetime for someone to listen to her stories.
War stories are so important. Last year I was contacted by an elderly gentleman who had his aunt’s work journals dating back to World War I. He wondered what he could do with them. I read some of these stories which were extremely precise and articulate, and realized what a roadmap of the aunt’s involvement in the war effort they were. Her strength of character and courage was demonstrated so clearly and created such important life messages.
War legacies must not be lost
These stories are important to family albums and to the young people of today. They must not be lost and the legacy they create when published for families and the community is immeasurable.
‘God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold dominion over palm and pine—Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!’
Rudyard Kipling. 1897.
Australian War Memorial. Australian Women’s Land Army. Accessed online Australian Women’s Land Army
Australian War Memorial. Sydney NSW August 1968. Liet. Gordon Lyall Simpson (24). and Nursing Sister Kay Worsley. Concord Repatriation Hospital. Accessed online AWM LES/68/0312/EC
Australian War Memorial. Australian Women’s Land Army. Accessed Online. ARTVO1062