Last Saturday, I had the good fortune to attend the Genealogical Society of Victoria’s Experience of War: WWI Seminar. There were 4 speakers over the course of the day each presenting on the experiences of Australians serving in WWI.

Andrew Kilsby started the day off by speaking about the 9 members of his family who served in WWI.  Interesting characters included Walter Ernest Ronald Kilsby who enlisted under a false name (probably to avoid responsibility of his deserted wife) and Arnold Percival Schmidt who after returning from the war hid approximately £5000 in the tyres of his bicycle (to be later discovered by Andrew’s father). Andrew recommended the book Shattered ANZACs : living with the scars of war by Marina Larsson for those interested in what life was like for returning soldiers and their families.

Dr Kirsty Harris’ presentation More than bombs and bandages provided a fascinating insight into the lives of Australian Army Service Nurses in WWI. The Nurses work varied considerably. Some experienced freezing temperatures in France while other dealt with the intense heat of Egypt.  They learned new skills, such as how to pitch tents, source food and supplies in foreign countries and how to help treat diseases and wounds they had not encountered before. They also acted as surrogate siblings or mothers,  helping soldiers write letters home and providing comfort to men who were dying. For those interested in learning more about this subject, Kirsty’ s book More than bombs and bandages : Australian army nurses at work in World War I is available to view in our collection.

The next presenter was David Holloway who spoke about the Men of the AIF.  His talk covered the demographics of the soldiers and their experiences of war. Many men understated or overstated their ages in order to enlist.  The oldest men discovered were two, aged 71 years and among the youngest was Pte James Martin, who died aged 14 years and 9 months. Interestingly, there were two contrasting reputations of Australian soldiers, one as drunk and disrespectful larrikins and the other as the most disciplined soldiers on the battlefield.

The final speaker, Kate Stedman concluded the seminar by provided us with a pictorial insight into World War I.  Photographs of the battlefields were shown, which was a great way to visualize the experience of war. Many of these photographs were taken by the Australian Imperial Force’s official war photographer Frank Hurley.

Websites that were mentioned over the course of the day:
National Archives of Australia – Record Search (for service records)
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Australian War Memorial – Roll of Honour
The Families and Friends of the First AIF Inc (FFFAIF Inc)
World War I Pictorial Honour Roll of South Australians

Thanks to the GSV for organising another great seminar.

Group of Australian soldiers

[Group of Australian soldiers]
Creator: T. P. Bennett ;
Date: 1915
Accession no: H83.103/154

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