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Marina Larsson, Shattered Anzacs: living with the scars of war.

Marina Larsson, Shattered Anzacs: living with the scars of war, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2009, 320 pages; ISBN 978 1 92141 055 0.

In 1916, when John Hargraves was invalided back to Australia after being injured on the western front, his family had no idea of his condition. When he arrived, prone on a stretcher, in a 'mental stupor', staring fixedly into space unable to recognise anyone, the victim of 'shell shock', his family was horrified and dismayed. John was sent to Caulfield Hospital for treatment. He was one of just over 100,000 Australian servicemen who served overseas during World War I and returned ill or injured, representing a third of those who enlisted. Some recovered; others remained permanent invalids, burdens on their families and the state for the remainder of their lives.

This is a familiar story. Over the years the costs and consequences of war for returned men and their families, particularly after World War I, have become an area of significant historical interest. Many of these works, however, have focused on the public stories of return--commemoration, remembrance, returned services organisations, the propagation of the Anzac legend, repatriation, soldier settlement and pensioning. In more recent years, however, a few historians have begun to follow the pioneering work of Joy Damousi, exploring the emotional and private dimensions of grief, loss and troubled returns.

Larsson's Shattered Anzacs is a welcome addition to this corpus of work on how families coped with war and its effects on their loved ones. It is a detailed and, at times, moving study of how families faced the return of disabled veterans, which uncovers the complex emotional currents that shaped the experience of overseeing the rehabilitation (and tragically, sometimes, the permanent disablement) of ill and injured veterans.

Shattered Anzacs often goes over well-trodden ground. The history of repatriation, pensioning, war memorials, shell shock, the 'burnt-out' soldier, the campaigns to expand benefits, the failure of soldier settlement and much more has been charted by many other historians. Where Larsson shines is in the intimate portraits of individual soldiers and families--how they negotiated the emotional shoals of return, how they coped with the burdens of disablement and disease and how they persevered despite setbacks and unthinking, occasionally unsympathetic, bureaucracies. Larsson also explores, through some insightful and empathetic oral histories, the inter-generational dimensions of return--how returned men shaped the lives of their children in profound ways, with lasting effects.

While Shattered Anzacs may lack the originality and brilliance of Joanna Bourke's study of disabled British veterans of World War I, Dismembering the Male (1996), it is a complex, subtle and insightful portrait of families dealing with profound emotional, psychological and physical stresses. It recreates the circumstances of individual families in vivid detail, getting behind the public record and showing us with great clarity how policies worked in practice.

It also reveals how families sometimes became the victims of rules, regulations and regulators or, sometimes, found ingenious ways around the system. On occasion, sympathetic doctors, nurses and repatriation officers assisted families in their desperate search for ways of alleviating the distress of their returned husbands, sons and fathers.

Larsson has produced an important contribution to the history of the private dimensions of war and its aftermath. It is a fascinating addition to a growing field of scholarship. And while Larsson uncovers many cases marred by turmoil and despair, she recovers the lives of other men, like John Hargraves the sufferer of 'mental stupor', who through the patience and forbearance of families and the skills of doctors and nurses, recovered to lead productive and useful lives.

Stephen Garton

University of Sydney
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Author:Garton, Stephen
Publication:Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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