Rocky Hill Presentation by Dr Jen Roberts - Grief and Trauma in War

8th Nov 2023

Rocky Hill War Memorial Museum, Memorial Road, Goulburn, NSW, 2580

Contact Details
Kerry Ross
[email protected]
(02) 4823 4842

Event Details
Time: 1:00pm - 3:00pm

She was in France last night to see the graves of her sons’: memory and wartime bereavement among Australian mothers

Over 80% of the soldiers in the First Australian Imperial Force (WW1) were unmarried; and many of these young men listed their mother as next of kin, a clear acknowledgement of the familial and financial ties between soldiers and their mothers. The impact of the Great War brought about anxiety, worry, bereavement and grief on an unprecedented scale. The instances of women’s admissions to mental asylums suffering ‘mental anxiety’, ‘worry’, ‘domestic trouble’ and ‘melancholia’ rose between 1915 and 1918.

This talk examines the experience of mothers as they struggled to come to terms with loss as a result of war – loss of their son on embarkation in the first instance, loss as death, and the loss of the essence of the individual when their sons returned wounded and ill. It also examines the way working class mothers negotiated their loss within a framework of financial hardship and troubled family dynamics. Many soldiers were the sole providers for their mothers, while others had acted as a protector from violent husbands.

Based on closed psychiatric medical files from the Callan Park Mental Hospital in Sydney, it examines the extremities of war time bereavement among Australian mothers, locating the site of longing and memory within the walls, and under the shame, of the public asylum, and challenges traditional assumptions that female grief was passive and stoic. Dr Jen Roberts

Jen is a lecturer in history at the University of Wollongong and researches the impact of bereavement in war among Australian families. Her work has been published internationally and most recently, in a commissioned article for the 100th edition of Wartime, the official magazine of the Australian War Memorial. She has also travelled extensively to commemorative locations and war graves in Turkey, France and Belgium.


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