Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.
You can also find me on my blog.
This week's class focused on the plight of Australia's indigenous people and other minorities during WWI. Though they sacrificed every bit as much as their white counterparts, these soldiers experienced discrimination in life and in death.
Their story is told through the lives of nine men, each of whom enlisted in 1915 or later. Before then, ANZAC would not accept them as volunteers, but the bloody fields of war forced authorities to lower standards. Each of the men's stories shared ended in tragedy, even for those who made it home.
Cornelius Danswan was one man blessed to survive the war, but was plagued by chronic respiratory problems that began with bronchitis in the trenches of France. His half Chinese, half English descent left him the subject of discrimination that left him with an inadequate pension that was eventually eliminated altogether, despite his ongoing suffering from PTSD and other health problems. His wife, who was forced to write on his behalf due to his disabilities, finally had his pension reinstated in 1926 shortly before his death. Then she was denied a surviving spouse pension to support her and their four children.
The story of Peter Chirvin demonstrates the power of racist bullying. Originally from Russia, he was one of the earliest to sign up (once he would be accepted) in May 1915. He proudly served, was wounded twice, and was commented for his work to save the wounded from the battlefield. However, on the ship headed back to Australia news of the Bolshevik activities turned his fellow soldiers against him. He was tormented to the extent that Chirvin became depressed to the extent that he committed suicide during the trip.
The Rigney family lost two men, the youngest only 16 years old when he insisted upon accompanying his older brother. Another man never saw action but contracted meningitis in camp and suffered from it for the rest of his life. Eva Maynard watched her husband and two sons leave, and only one returned.
When Alex McKinnon was dying, he asked that his belongings be sent to his mother. Authorities determined that his medals were better sent to the stepmother who did not know he existed. She was the white woman that his father had left his mother for.
I enjoy reading these stories, but as this class progresses I've realized that I probably would have preferred to simply read the book. The stories are told through silent presentations anyway, and I would have preferred videos. Other segments are taught through videos, such as this week's instructions on how to access digitized WWI diaries at www.ww1.sl.nsw.gov.au.
'There is nothing uniform about the way the war is remembered.'