Anzac Memories

Living with the Legend (Second Edition)

By Alistair Thomson

Contributions by: Jay Winter

What is taboo in any family or in any society is never fixed. And neither is that body of family information which everybody knows but no one talks about. Mental illness is one such subject, and it created a kind of fence around one central element of Thomson's work in the 1980s - his grandfather Hector's story. He has had the courage to take that fence down and use a range of sources to enter the no man's land of suffering and isolation which was a part of his grandfather's life, and perforce, that of his grandmother and the young child who became his father. When the first edition was in preparation, Alistair Thomson's father objected strenuously to any mention in the book of his father's (Alistair's grandfather's) mental illness; reluctantly Alistair agreed to leave out the subject. We can understand why the author's father, himself a soldier, felt so strongly. The images were too hard to bear for the man who was a young boy in the 1930s, living through very, very hard times with his disturbed father after his mother's death. Now, afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, but still able to read the text, he gave his son permission to tell the story. And it is a compelling and important one. From that story, we see the price families and in particular wives paid for the multiple wounds men brought home with them from war. What the second edition shows was the sheer force of survival in his grandmother Nell, who had not only the handful of two small boys to raise, but a damaged husband to support. And making her life harder still was that her husband's disability was very hard to define precisely....We know that the damage war does to families is generational; it doesn't stop when the shooting stops. It is passed on indirectly from father to son to grandson, and to the women with whom they live. By retelling his family's story, Alistair Thomson has been able to fashion a moving portrait of his family: his grandmother Nell, and after her death, of their sons, Al's dad and his uncle, still children, having cold mutton for Christmas dinner, alone with their father, a soldier of the Great War. -- Jay Winter, Yale University *** Anzac Memories was first published to acclaim in 1994 (by Oxford University Press) and has achieved international renown for its pioneering contribution to the study of war memory and mythology. War historian Michael McKernan wrote that the book gave "as good a picture of the impact of the Great War on individuals and Australia as we are likely to get in this generation," and historian Michael Roper concluded that "an immense achievement of this book is that it so clearly illuminates the historical processes that left men like my grandfather forever struggling to fashion myths which they could live by." In this second edition, author Alistair Thomson explores how the Anzac legend has been transformed over the past quarter century, how a 'post-memory' of World War I creates new challenges and opportunities for making sense of Australia's national past, and how veterans' war memories can still challenge and complicate national mythologies. Thomson returns to a family war history that he could not write about 20 years ago because of the stigma of war and mental illness, and he uses newly-released Repatriation files to question his own earlier account of veterans' post-war lives and memories and to think afresh about war and memory. *** "Anzac Memories is a remarkable book, both for its original content and for the light it sheds on a fine, conscientious historian's re-engagement with his earlier work in view of new archival evidence and relevant studies in such fields as remembrance, medicine, and the social history of war." -- Michigan War Studies Review, 2016-035, March 2016 (Series: Monash Classics)


424 pages

Publication Date: 9/16/2013
Format: Paper
ISBN: 9781921867583

Available in other formats