War Stories are like deep underground rivers of a network of experiences
War experiences are such personal and sensitive stories. Whether they are from recent wars and conflicts such as Afghanistan or Vietnam wars or earlier world wars, the impact on those involved and their families is dramatic and life-changing. Telling your story in whatever way you wish can be a powerful tool to work through emotions and mental health. It is so important to family history that the contribution made by veterans is documented and acknowledged. The life messages that will be generated could make such a difference to younger family members and those of the future.
A few years ago, an elderly lady contacted me about writing her life story. When we were half-way through, she commenced crying.
Women’s Land Army
We had reached that part of her life when she enlisted in the Women’s Land Army as her personal contribution to the war effort. Her story poured out through her tears and laughter as she recalled the harshness of the working conditions, the friends she made (and the difficult personalities), the jobs she had to perform and the social activities that the women invented to amuse themselves.
‘This is a wonderful story’ I told her. ‘I expect your family knows all this?’
‘No’ she replied. ‘They were never interested. This is the first time I have told anyone.’
Now it was my turn to cry. This wonderful woman, who was now 81 years old, embarked on this journey when she was 18 years of age, as an act of responsibility to meet the shortage of rural labour in Australia. She was a city girl and embraced farm jobs that would challenge any strong male. She adjusted to the heat and cold, dust and insects, long hours working outside and minimum wage and leave opportunities.
Young Vietnam Soldiers
The project led me to wonder how many others involved in the war effort, talk about their journey. As a young trainee nurse, I worked in Concord Repatriation Hospital in Sydney, during the Vietnam War. We heard many stories as we did back care on the young soldiers when they were bed-bound, or when we were dressing their wounds or just sitting 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 and nursing duties that we provided. The stories bubbled out of them like a deep underground river of experiences which had gathered from a network of sources. We were allowing the young soldiers to tell their story however they wished, and we provided no judgment or criticism. We were under 20 years of age ourselves and today, I marvel at the maturity my peers and I displayed.
I remember one young soldier thanking me for listening. He could not tell his family of his experiences because of guilt and shame that he felt, but also because he wasn’t sure how to control his feelings of anger and confusion. He thought the family didn’t want to know but were happy just to have him back safe.
War stories are important. I was contacted last year by an elderly gentleman who had his aunt’s war journals dating back to the 1st World War and wondered what he could do with them. I read some of those articulate entries and realized how powerful and important the stories were and what a roadmap of the aunt’s involvement in the war effort and illustrations of her character and personality.
Don’t lose their stories
These stories are so important to families and send such an important message to young people of today. The courage and commitment of those involved in providing services to their country in whatever format must not be lost.
If you have a family member who would like to tell their story and have it documented in a book, please contact me. The journey will be a wonderful recognition and they will thank you as it may be something they have secretly wanted all these years.
Ring me today and let’s get to work.
‘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!’
Recessional. 1897. Rudyard Kipling.
Another war story that needs to be told
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