Sunday, May 17, 2015

Return to Gallipoli: walking the battlefields of the Great War

This study by Bruce Scates investigates why so many Australians make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli and the Western Front and what the experience of the journey means to them. From the 1920s and 1930s Australians and New Zealanders have made the pilgrimage to war cemeteries and battlefields. In some cases it is family members who want to see where their loved ones fought and possibly died. In some cases it was former soldiers who felt the need to return. The thoughts of these people about the long journey can only be gleaned from newspaper accounts or possibly diaries. As more people, especially young people, make the trip to these sites it was decided to survey a selection of these travellers about their experiences. Seven hundred surveys were collected to provide some of the responses for this book.

The book therefore is an investigation of the idea of commemoration, memorials, of mourning and of grief.  The first chapter also looks at the creation of the large cemeteries and memorials to the war dead. The other three chapters investigate family pilgrimages since the war, the return of service people to these sites and finally why so many young people today make the journey especially to attend the Dawn Service at Gallipoli on Anzac Day. To some these journeys are almost a right of passage. To others they are an exploration of the making of Australia and New Zealand as individual countries, weakening their dependency on Britain.

The conclusion with the subtitle Journey's end begins with the search by parents for information about the death of their son, George Roy Irwin. Twelve years after George was reported missing in 1915 his parents made the journey to the Lone Pine Cemetery where they had a brass rubbing taken of their missing son's  memorial plaque. The basis of this story (with a number of changes) was used by Bruce Scates as one of the threads in his novel, On dangerous ground.

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