WW1: LOVE & SORROW
Introducing the exhibition
For four years, millions of families across the world said goodbye to their loved ones heading off to fight in World War I.
By the time peace was declared, over 60,000 Australians were dead and thousands more would soon die of war injuries—from a population of only five million people.
World War I was a tragedy on an almost unimaginable scale. One hundred years later its effects are still felt.
WWI: Love & Sorrow explores the impact of the war on Australian families.
SPIRIT OF THE TIMES
'Australians! Your country needs you.'
The outbreak of war caused a huge wave of enthusiasm and excitement for many Australians. Australia had been an independent nation for only 14 years. The war was a chance to establish the nation's identity, although it would fight as a member of the British Empire.
Enlistment parades and rallies filled the streets and halls, and popular songs raised patriotic spirits. Posters used simple images and messages to entice, berate and cajole. Men volunteered to fight for many reasons. For some, it was a sense of duty or the need for work. For others, it was a chance to travel with friends on a grand adventure. Many simply wanted to avoid being ‘shirkers’.
When the time came to go to the front, it was far worse than they ever imagined.
Edward Wylde Haverfield wrote in his diary:
“…wave upon wave of men had leaped out of the trenches as if from nowhere, they were racing up to our front line to come up and support us, but there is not many lads that can say they ever reached our line, they were simply mowed to pieces…”
Listen to an account of the Gallipoli landings by a member of the Australian Army Medical Corps
Travelling over rough terrain in a horse-drawn ambulance could be agonising for wounded soldiers. Yet without these vehicles, many more men would have died.
Both horse-drawn and motorised ambulances were used to take the wounded to field hospitals and evacuation trains.
Ranging boards showed the range of a gun in a placement overlooking the enemy.
They also detailed the position of the gun itself and the enemy trenches, entanglements and other features.
This ranging board depicts the area around Wulverghem (today Wulvergem) in Belgium before the Battle of Messines in 1917. It was used by a German officer in charge of a Heavy Mortar Battery against 2nd Anzac Corps.
Runner's arm band
John Hargreaves was a ‘runner’ in the 7th Battalion in France. This band around his left forearm indicated his role to other soldiers. Runners raced along and between trenches to deliver messages on the battlefield — a dangerous, exhausting job.
He was repeatedly buried by explosions and was recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions on 24–26 July 1916, during the Battle of Pozières.
Keeping in touch
Millions of letters were posted around the world during World War I. Mail and telegrams were the only way most people kept in touch.
The letters and diaries written during World War I show that the experience of war was similar on both sides. Soldiers and others away fighting the war largely spared their families the harsh reality, writing instead about food, weather, landscapes and friends. Occasionally a diary was more revealing, but it was usually kept for the writer's eyes only.
Listen to an extract from a letter from Eliza to her son Alex, 21 July 1916
7 September 1918 – Letter, Ruby to Frank
My own dearest hubby,
to help to keep your precious feet warm, these are a bonny pair of sox hubby dear & have cost more than any other pair I have made, but I wanted them to be good, thick & warm, because you will get them about winter time over there so will need warm things.
But I'm still living in hope of seeing you for Xmas & having dinner together, eh darl? Lord I hope so anyway.
I get pretty miserable at times I can tell you darl without you...
Warning: graphic content
Men with broken faces
Wounds to the face and head were the most dreaded of trench warfare. Soldiers could survive the loss of the whole mouth and lower jaw, cheek, eyes or nose. About one in eight Australian casualties suffered facial wounds.
New Zealand surgeon Harold Gillies and his colleagues developed ground-breaking techniques at a specialised hospital for facial injuries, Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup, England. Here they worked to to restore not only men’s faces, but their will to live.
Bill Kearsey was serving in the 33rd Battalion near Glencorse Wood, Belgium, when a shell seriously wounded his face, hand and arm on 3 October 1917.
Bill underwent about 29 reconstructive operations at Sidcup.
Facial prosthetic and artificial eyes, 1920s–30s
Prosthetics like this were made at studios in London and Paris during and after World War I to cover soldiers’ severe facial injuries.
Eric Winter was serving as a driver in the 42nd Battalion in the Ypres area of Belgium on 19 October 1917, enduring extreme weather conditions and exhaustion, when his jaw was shot off. Eric spent almost 18 months at Sidcup where he had multiple reconstructive surgeries.
The plaster cast helped to plan his surgeries and record his condition.
Val-de-Grâce Military Hospital,
Fitting a facial prosthetic, Paris, 1917-20
American sculptor Anna Coleman Ladd worked at the Val-de-Grace Military Hospital in Paris to make facial prosthetics for seriously wounded men.
WARTIME AT HOME
The angel of death
During World War I, eight per cent of the entire population of Australia enlisted. More than half were killed or wounded. The impact on Australian society was enormous.
Women bore the brunt of the loss of men: managing households and raising children alone. Shortages of basic goods made life even harder.
A sense of dread and death hung heavy in the air, mocking the cheerful recruitment parades and galas. Newspapers printed growing lists of casualties next to rousing descriptions of battles. The streets darkened with women dressed in mourning clothes.
A boy’s scrapbook, 1915
For many children, war-time could be exciting, with its gala events, parades of uniformed soldiers and games of make-believe. At the same time, children were deeply affected by the war.
One boy, Vincent Barton, expressed his fears by filling scrapbooks with newspaper cuttings about wounded and killed soldiers.
John Hargreaves’s book of paintings, about 1917
John began painting during his treatment in Melbourne for shell shock. His subjects included other soldier-patients in their blue military hospital uniforms.
He painted for the rest of his life and became a fine artist.
Opposition to the war
Support for war in Australia was not universal. Some people were pacifists; some did not accept that the war was a just cause; and some were conflicted by their affiliation with non-allied countries.
As it dragged on, support for the war waned. Australians became increasingly divided, upset and tired. Fervent public debate surrounded the conscription referendums in 1916 and 1917.
LIFE AFTER WAR
The cost of peace
The suffering and grief brought by war did not end with the Armistice. The graves of the dead were far away on the other side of the world. Those who went to war carried the burden of their memories. The wounded faced years of recovery and often died prematurely. Many struggled to get government support and recognition.
And their families had to cope with it all.
Albert Ward’s coach wheel bed
World War I veteran Albert (Wardie) Ward used this cast-iron coach-wheeled bed for 43 years at the Anzac Hostel in Brighton.
Albert was severely wounded in his back and thighs in France in 1918. As the years passed he became increasingly immobilized.
He spent the rest of his life in care, except for annual ‘holidays’ with family in Mildura.
Prosthetic arm, 1917–30
Around 3,800 Australian soldiers lost limbs during World War I.
The buildings of Caulfield Military Hospital included a limb factory, where these prosthetic limbs were probably made.
Letter from former Prime Minister William Hughes to Herbert Murray, 1936
Although Aboriginal serviceman Herbert Murray was gassed during the war he was refused a war pension.
He wrote to former Prime Minister Billy Hughes, by then then Minister for Health and Repatriation, but Hughes replied that he was also unable to help.
It will come back at all sorts of times.
You finish up enlisting twice, once for the war and once for the nightmares.
World War I veteran
VISIT THE EXHIBITION
8 STORIES OF ORDINARY PEOPLE LIVING IN EXTRAORDINARY TIMES
Telegraph messenger from Ararat, VIC, aged 18
Butcher from Malvern, VIC, aged 32
Nurse from Ballarat, VIC, aged 33
Brothers from Orbost, VIC aged 26 and 34
Orchardist from South Saffafras, VIC aged 27
Coach builder from Inverell, NSW, aged 24
Rural pioneer from Boweya, VIC, mother of Alex aged 23
Brothers from East Prussia, Germany, aged 18 and 26
The Storyteller - who will you follow?
Choose a person. The Storyteller is your interactive guide to their wartime experience.
The story unfolds as your move through the exhibition.
You can borrow a Storyteller device from us at the ticket desk.