Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War

Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War

Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War

Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War

Synopsis

The Great War is, for many Australians, the event that defined our nation. The larrikin diggers, trench warfare, and the landing at Gallipoli have become the stuff of the Anzac legend. But it was also a war fought by the families at home. Their resilience in the face of hardship, their stoic acceptance of enormous casualty lists, and their belief that their cause was just, made the war effort possible. Broken Nation is the first book to bring together all the dimensions of World War I. Combining deep scholarship with powerful storytelling, Joan Beaumont brings the war years to life: from the well-known battles at Gallipoli, Pozieres, Fromelles, and Villers-Bretonneux, to the lesser known battles in Europe and the Middle East; from the ferocious debates over conscription to the disillusioning Paris peace conference and the devastating "Spanish" flu the soldiers brought home. Witness the fear and courage of tens of thousands of soldiers, grapple with the strategic nightmares confronting the commanders, and come to understand the impact on Australians at home and at the front of death on an unprecedented scale. A century after the Great War, Broken Nation brings lucid insight into the dramatic events, mass grief, and political turmoil that makes the memory of this terrible war central to Australia's history.

Excerpt

The centenary of World War I and the landing at Gallipoli will no doubt fill bookstores across Australia with numerous accounts of the nation’s role in this conflict. These will swell the already voluminous literature on Australian military history that has been published over the last two decades to meet and fuel a growing popular interest in the memory of war. So why this book?

It has been written to provide what is still lacking in the literature: a comprehensive history of Australians at war in the period 1914–19 that integrates battles, the home front, diplomacy and memory. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Australian military history has been dominated by the history of battles and military units. Battle, after all, is the essence of war, and the Anzac ‘legend’— which is the most enduring legacy of World War I for Australians today—is a story about soldiers and their behaviour in battle. But World War I involved more than fighting and killing. Sometimes called the first ‘total’ war, it was a conflict in which civilians mattered. Theirs, after all, was the majority experience. Even though a remarkable number of Australians enlisted and served overseas—nearly 417,000 and 330,000 respectively from a population of fewer than five million—most Australians stayed at home. Among men aged 18 to 60, nearly 70 per cent did not enlist. In essence, then, the story of Australians at war is about more than the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) at war.

Moreover, it was the Australian population on the home front—a term that was coined during World War I in recognition of its importance—who underpinned the national war effort. They did not fight, but they accepted casualties . . .

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