Above: Anzac Hill where the World War 1 Stories phone app was launched, sunset, Sunday 11 November 2018.
By KIERAN FINNANE
What is it like to experience war? A locally developed phone app, launched at sunset atop Anzac Hill on Remembrance Day, offers some insights through personal stories from people who lived through World War 1.
They tell of the initial sense of adventure in going off to war; of the injury, shellshock, as well as death that followed for so many; the grief of loved ones left behind, and the struggles of returned soldiers in re-adjusting to society.
Remembrance Day recalls Armistice Day, 11 November 1918, when World War 1 officially came to an end; its legacy however endured. So terrible had been the loss of human life that it was spoken of as the “war to end war”: more than 9 million soldiers died, around 21 million were wounded and civilian deaths were estimated between 7 and 13 million, as Jonathan Pilbrow noted at Sunday’s launch.
The social political and personal reverberations of that catastrophe continue to today, and World War 1 arguably might have been avoided, said Mr Pilbrow, but for the failure of politicians in Europe to find a diplomatic solution.
Mr Pilbrow is a member of the Alice Springs Peace Action Think Tank (ASPATT), a group of local people working towards creating a safer and more peaceful world. The phone app is their initiative.
Anzac Hill in Alice, which Arrernte people know as Untyeyetwelye, is replete with the official accounts of overseas conflicts in which Australian defence forces have been involved. Notably missing have been personal and local stories.
From now on visitors to the hill (and anyone interested from across Australia and New Zealand) will be able to hear them, thanks to the app, simply titled World War 1 Stories.
Taking around three to five minutes each, they are the stories of soldiers and other personnel involved in that war, or of their relatives and their descendants. It also includes photos of those who served as well as other relevant images.
On Sunday the gathering heard the tragic story of a mother who went out of her mind with grief, waiting for a son who was deemed dead but whose body was never found. Much of its poignancy came from the letters mother and son had written to one another.
This was not a local story but ASPATT have gathered written stories and some photos for 16 people who lived in Central Australia pre-1914 and who enlisted in the war. They include some Aboriginal people from the Centre.
As Patricia Ansell Dodds (above, on the microphone) told the small gathering on Sunday: “When we look at our people from this area, they went to all wars in Australia, even the first World War. They didn’t know what they were going to get involved in. When they came back they still weren’t citizens of this country or not even recognised decently. It took many years.
“One day I went to the RSL Club, I seen all the names of the Arrernte people from here. I thought that was so important because my dad was in the second World War and he marched every year up this hill until he got that old and sick he couldn’t do that, so I had to drive him.
“They fought in wars, they never got recognised. But their thing is this flag [the Aboriginal flag, printed on her t-shirt] should be flown up [on the hill] because they come from here and it’s not recognised by the council and it should be today. * But our people fought and they went through trauma like other Australians when they came back and some didn’t come back.
“I’d like to recognise all Aboriginal people and white Australians as well.”
ASPATT hopes to build on the content of the app into the future, said Mr Pilbrow, to increase awareness of the experiences of soldiers, of the enormous human cost of World War I and its impact on Australian society. The app is also intended to encourage critical thinking about past wars and about alternatives to war in resolving human conflicts.
It was created with the assistance of Edan Baxter of Spinifex Valley, and in partnership with 8CCC, which will be re-broadcasting the audio stories. Other support came from a Department of Veterans’ Affairs Armistice Centenary Grant and the Alice Springs Town Council Community Assistance Scheme.
To access the app, go to Google Play for androids, App Store for iPhones, and type in “World War 1 Stories Alice Springs”.
*The Aboriginal flag is flown on Anzac Hill only on days of significance to local Aboriginal people. After a protracted debate within and outside council, it flew for the first time at the start of NAIDOC Week this year but it was not flying on Remembrance Day