On Armistice Day, I attended a Symposium at the University of Queensland entitled ‘Sacrifice in Wartime’. It referred specifically to World War 1 (WWI or ‘The Great War’ as it was known at the time) during which the term ‘sacrifice’ was used a great deal by many different people in many different ways.
Dr Geoff Ginn spoke about the 57,700 Queenslanders who served in WWI, many of whom died, and of the 60,000 Australians who died. Sacrifice was imbued with Christian ideals where Christ died on the cross for our sins. There were also secular connotations. In Queensland, Archbishop Donaldson preached sacrifice as a penitential submission for Anglicanism and the British Empire, which were both very strong influences in our colonial attitude at that time. (Donaldson House at the then named Church of England Grammar School would surely been named after him.)
Geoff also mentioned the sacrifices of our troops for each other, and noted those of the stretcher-bearers bringing the wounded back from the battlefields at great personal risk. In the 1920s and 1930s memorials to the WWI dead became a preoccupation with communities throughout Australia. Inscriptions used the language of high diction, which dated back not just to WWI but the battles of the early 10th century. For example the Mosaic on floor of Horatio Nelson’s sarcophagus reads ‘England expects every man to do his duty’.
Dr Mark Cryle then spoke of sacrifice for the community back home in Australia in terms of the removal of pleasure as a performance of loyalty; the foregoing of pleasures such as sporting, gambling, and alcohol while the troops suffered overseas. It was tied to fundraising especially in schools and community groups. (An interesting contrast was with many of the troops overseas where boozing, gambling, and prostitution were indulged in during their recreation time.)
Fiona McLeod spoke about the call for mothers to encourage their sons to volunteer for service overseas. Many badges and posters were aimed at them:
WWI poster urging mothers to support the war effort
Also wives were encouraged by State monetary aid to have children to compensate for the horrific number of deaths being incurred on the battlefields.
Dr Robert Hogg mentioned Eric Honeywood Partridge who regarded himself as unsuitable to be a soldier, but he clung to the ideals of duty and sacrifice. He joined the Australian Imperial Force in April 1915 and served in the Australian infantry during the First World War, in Egypt, Gallipoli and on the Western Front, before being wounded in the Battle of Pozières. His interest in slang and the “underside” of language is said to date from his wartime experience. Partridge wrote over forty books on the English language, including well-known works on etymology and slang. Of particular relevance, Geoffrey Serle writes in the Australian Dictionary of Biography “He eventually himself published ‘Frank Honywood, Private’, as part of Three Personal Records of the War (London, 1929), which ranks as a minor classic of war literature. He was concerned to commemorate his mate Corporal Howard Phillips who had died at Mont St Quentin, to attempt to describe the terrible battle of Pozières, to expose himself as an example of a soldier broken but somehow carrying on under appalling stress, and to write the war out of his system. Incidentally he had much illuminating to say about the men of the A.I.F. and his autobiography of one intellectual, ‘sensitive’ infantryman stands as a much-needed modification of vulgar notions of the Australian soldier.”
Then Simon Farley referred to Padre George Green of the Second Light Horse Regiment at Gallipoli. Green kept a detailed diary of his time at Gallipoli, and in eloquent and honest prose vividly described the horrors of the campaign. In the dust and heat and flies he tended his flock, providing what pastoral care he could. One of his most important and distressing tasks was burying the dead. He wrote “I remember registering the resolve to be studiously callous about funerals otherwise it was obvious I would not last another week… I was among the burial party to go over into territory between the trenches. There I beheld a sight I never shall forget and struck a smell awful beyond anything I’ve ever experienced….I said committal over about fifteen bodies most of whom were decayed beyond recognition.”
He was full of admiration for the men and wrote “The valour, spirit, patience and determination of these Australian soldiers are beyond all praise”.
Finally, Dr Susan Kellett mentioned the sacrifices made by nurses during WWI and how churches made money through church memorials of stained glass windows both to individuals and as collective memorials. This was contrasted with the war memorials erected by public subscription in the community.
Stained glass church window in memory of the fallen soldiers during WWI