About 50 people stood in soft and misty rain at the Glebe Diggers Memorial on Wednesday 11 November. Glebe Society President Ted McKeown urged us to remember: Not just ‘The War to End All Wars’, but the lesson never having been learned, those subsequent Wars as well. To remember those who lost their lives, and those whose lives were blighted by physical and psychological injury. To reflect on the endurance and stoicism of those bereft and left to carry on.
Deputy Lord Mayor Robyn Kemmis referred to the issues raised in the Glebe Society’s recent ANZAC Exhibition and spoke of the massive loss of lives in World War I.
Lyn Collingwood read a poem (see p.10) written by Lt Oliver Hogue who had attended Forest Lodge School. Hogue, a journalist, was the son of the State Member for Glebe, J A Hogue. Oliver Hogue survived the First World War, only to die in England in March 1919 of influenza. He was 39.
Max Solling delivered the Remembrance Day address (see below).
Address by Max Solling
“‘No event has ever destroyed so much’, wrote Sigmund Freud, a year after the outbreak of the First World War, ‘that has confused so many of the clearest intelligences, or so thoroughly debased what is highest’.
The shock of combat, and the gruesome realities of death and wounds, were the stuff of nightmares, momentary ﬂashbacks, and private grief, not everyday conversation. These things were generally masked and displaced, but obliquely acknowledged in metaphor and allusion. Soldier organizations, patriots, and politicians provided a framework for this type of remembering through a language of sacriﬁce, honour and national self-realisation.
Who could, or would want to, develop a language for such horror. Novelists, painters and poets perhaps might. Most historians are reluctant to consider the psychology of grief partly because they strive for intellectual not psychic mastery of events.
In private and public memory there was precious little space, and even fewer words, to signal the horror of war. But the scale of sacriﬁce demanded some means of resolving its effects. It’s worth recalling these facts in order to acknowledge the difficulty of the task of resolution, both personal and public. In the First World War 60,000 men died, and a further 150,000 returned injured and ill, many permanently affected. These casualties represented nearly one quarter of all Australian men aged l8 to 45 years. Few families would have remained unaffected by these tragic statistics.
There was also a wider cultural problem. These men and women had been killed and injured as part of a national commitment, and they required a public display of mourning and commemoration. These were inﬁnitely complex dilemmas. How could such a sacriﬁce be explained and resolved? In what ways could the extent of sacriﬁce be justiﬁed? And Australians faced the problem of deciding what to commemorate. What had such a sacriﬁce meant, not just for those who served but also for the nation as a whole?
What emerges is the ‘Anzac legend’, its meaning, how it was maintained, and, perhaps more importantly the signiﬁcance of this legend for returned men and women themselves. It was the legend that gave shape to the expression of mourning. In this it served a positive purpose, providing a ﬁeld of meaning that eased the burden of loss. One extraordinary outcome was the ﬁfteen volume work, The Ofﬁcial History of Australia in the war of l9l4-18, covering four million words. In Australian historical writing nothing has ever been done on such a scale as this new genre, military history.
Soldiers formed an intimate relationship with their mothers, as intense a focus for sentiment as mateship, and a closer, more emotional tie than many marriages. Much grief was publicly invisible and inaudible, its burden known only to the sufferers and their nearest and dearest.
Perhaps the most poignant display of public mourning in Glebe took place at this memorial on Anzac Day 1923, the ﬁrst opportunity for Glebe women to publicly and collectively express their profound sense of loss, taking the form of a pilgrimage by grieving mothers, widows and sisters, all dressed in black and wearing hats. The name of each soldier inscribed in gold on the marble nameplate was read out by the memorial committee secretary Bill Brown, and, as he did, a Glebe woman stepped forward to lay a wreath. It was a protracted ritual. Throughout the inter-war years they would continue to return to this hallowed place on signiﬁcant dates, especially anniversaries of death or birth. On these occasions they stood in front of the mausoleum, head bowed in quiet contemplation or tenderly placed their ﬁngers on the inscribed name of their beloved.
Biographers give us glimpses of anguish. By the time she died in 1936 Scottish-born Margaret Cotter had outlived her husband and four of her six sons. She lost two sons, John on the Western Front and Albert at Beersheba in 1917. Margaret would appear on the stairs at the family home, Monteith, 266 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe clutching letters from her soldier sons, and granddaughter Alison recalled she seldom spoke of the sorrows she endured, but sometimes she could be seen quietly dabbing at her eyes when she thought that no-one was looking.
The war shattered the public stoicism that fathers were expected to show in emotional crises. It completely overturned previous rituals of mourning, changing Western understandings of death forever. Sons predeceased their fathers, overturning the logic of reproduction. This was especially hard as, before the war, there had been declining infant mortality.
From the day the minister brought HB Higgins news that his beloved only son Mervyn was dead, Higgins felt stricken: ‘My grief has condemned me to hard labour for the rest of my life’. In the words of his biographer ‘a void . . . now opened in his life. For Mervyn was not just his son, but his future as well. This was encapsulated as the ﬁrst year without his son dawned:
‘The pain is of the living, not the dead
For us, in age, a childless home — and tears’
A common response to this emotional challenge was to contain and channel the pain into affirming the values of heroic sacriﬁce and pride. In Australia, loyalty to Britain was a fundamental principle that many fathers upheld. In a letter to his uncle, describing the death of his son at Gallipoli, Edward Bechevaise expressed his feelings in terms which gloriﬁed his son’s heroic stature. He focused on his son’s sense of duty in volunteering. He ‘did his duty for King and Country and made the supreme sacriﬁce. He was only 22, a ﬁne steady young fellow of a religious turn of mind . . . He was one of the ﬁrst to enlist when the war broke out, and did it from a stern sense of duty and as an example to others’.
After the war had ended, through 1919 and 1920, postmen delivered to every bereaved household two elaborate imperial tributes: a brass plaque with the dead man’s name inscribed between Britannia and a lion, with the legend ‘He died for freedom and honour’; and the king’s scroll. The plaque and the scroll, devised in 1918, were posted to more than a million next of kin throughout the empire. What more the plaque and the scroll told was that the King himself, incarnation of the imagined community known as the British Empire, was assuring every grieving subject that this son, that husband, must be remembered for dying in a noble cause.”
Remembrance Day poem
This year’s Remembrance Day poem was Oliver Hogue’s The Anzac’s farewell to his ‘steed’.
The son of the Member for Glebe, Hogue attended Forest Lodge School and lived at 46 Toxteth Rd and 248 Glebe Point Rd.
A skilled horseman, Hogue was at Gallipoli with the Light Horse and fought with the Camel Corps in the Sinai desert and Jordan. When the Cameliers were converted to cavalry in mid 1918, Hogue said goodbye to his ungainly ‘old Hoosta’. Below is the last verse of his poem.
Once more I’ll feel the thrill that only horses give to man,
As I canter gaily onward from Beersheba unto Dan;
I’ll sense the dawn-wind’s message and the mystery of the stars,
And hear again the music of the bit and snaffle-bars.
So it’s farewell now, old Hoosta, our paths diverge from here;
I have got to be a Horseman now, and not a Camelier.
You were smellful, you were ugly. Now I’ve got a horse instead.
Still, you had the camel virtues, so I take back all I’ve said.