Historians in Canberra commemorated Remembrance Day this morning at a timely book launch at the National Archives of Australia.
The Last Battle: A History of Soldier Settlement in Australia (Cambridge University Press) is the first project to use recently released repatriation files on a substantial scale. It took two authors – Bruce Scates (Monash University, Victoria) and Melanie Oppenheimer (Flinders University of South Australia) – and nine research assistants to create this moving book and they feel they have barely scratched the surface of the material.
The Last Battle contains the deeply personal stories of thousands of returned soldiers whose struggled to make lives for themselves and their families was shaped by imperfect repatriation policies. The stories highlight the difficulties caused by the men’s physical and psychological damage in a challenging environment and reveal the vital roles of women and children in their postwar lives.
As Bruce and Melanie pointed out in their warm and thoughtful presentation, most of the promises made to the 1914 generation – like the promise of the soldier settlement scheme to find ‘land fit for heroes’ – were not fulfilled.
Today of all days we should remember the largest unbroken promise of all – that the Great War was the war to end all wars.