The small, creased photograph shows all twelve children attending the Charra Woolshed School. My mother was nine years old in 1913, and the Head Teacher was Wm. Picker. Mum often spoke to me about her teacher and how he taught her to read. He was killed in France on September 18, 1918. He was my hero.
Forty years later, as a young boy, I would curl up on the wood-box in
the kitchen of our Adelaide suburban home and silently listen to my father and his mates talk of ‘the wars’. My cousin was a ‘Rat’ and he was killed in Tobruk. I was a little confused about him being called a ‘Rat’, but he was my hero. This was my fractured and romantic understanding of war. There have always been photographs and memorabilia from wars in our home and my life. Anzac Day and ‘Poppy’ Day were times of quiet activity where I was expected to participate in the traditions.
During Easter 2013 I ‘discovered’ an unopened box that my mother had put aside for me prior to her death in 1997.
The majority of the contents were her ‘traces of war’, which included my father’s medals, his Army records, photographs of family members who served, and an assortment of letters from my father to my mother, and to one of my sisters. Dad was my hero.
Professor Alistair Thomson reflects on photographs [and other objects] being documents of social history and mnemonic devices¹. Each of these photographs and other family artifacts has a story, real or imagined and redefine the narrative. These traces, together with reflective memory and oral history construct a new narrative of my family’s one-hundred years of war.
Having a son serving in Afghanistan in 2010 returned my war to the kitchen table and introduced fear. I now have a new hero.
Aspects of this blog were presented at the 2013 Narratives of War Conference, University of South Australia. It will also form the basis of a more extensive ‘oral history’ paper. It is currently in draft form and will be peer reviewed.
¹ From: Oral History and Photography, edited by Alexander Freund and Alistair Thomsom, 2011, Palgrave Macmillan
[page updated May 2014]