School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    Journeys to war: experiences of Australian recruits in the Great War
    Ziino, Bart ( 1999-09)
    Debates over 'the' experience of Australians in the Great War have attempted to characterise the way that Australians approached and experienced this war. This thesis is concerned with the experiences of recruits for the Australian Imperial Force from the point of enlistment, to their first experiences of battle. Those Australians who enlisted between 1914 and 1918 imagined their war before they experienced it. Recruits expected to pass through certain defining moments on their way to the front, moments by which they could chart and later recount their war. Recruits anticipated a quick passage through these stages, but the reality was a consistent rising and falling of expectations as they encountered extended periods of inactivity that did not accord with their imagined narrative of war. With battle essential to any war experience, recruits pictured themselves at the height of battle, perhaps in the midst of the old world in Europe, but more importantly, their vision was only made complete by imagining their homecoming. Under the illusions of previous wars, early recruits envisaged returning after a short conflict to a welcoming society. This vision suffered under the realities of a protracted war, and a growing awareness of the real conditions at the front. As this knowledge found its way back to Australia, recruits found themselves between two worlds of war, one constructed through newspapers and propaganda, the other becoming more apparent in attitudes gleaned from returned men and letters from those at the front. Both claimed to know the war, yet recruits knew neither world to be entirely true. Increasingly, recruits came to a closer understanding of the war, the corollary of which was that their vision of home changed in its emphasis. Men continued to be drawn by the war, but by 1917 and 1918, sought to return to homes they came to regard as a haven. They no longer anticipated that the war would enhance their social status after they returned. What they retained was a desire to reach the war and see battle, in order that they might earn the right to return home.