Saturday, 18 April 2015

Between Battles: Commemorating the Cultural Lives of Soldiers

Photograph: AWM Collection, DAOD0058 (
Caption:  Soldier writing in his tent circa. January 1915. Photo Taken by the Darge Photographic Company.
Between 1914 and 1918 some 420,000 Australian soldiers enlisted to fight during the First World War.  Countless research projects have focused on the military aspects of this encounter, including the fighting, the victories, and the enormous sacrifices of the Australian forces and their allies.  But have you ever wondered what Australian soldiers got up to when they were not directly engaged in combat? Have you ever wondered how the soldiers of the First World War passed their time waiting behind the lines of a battle, or in-between training at a camp, or even in transit to troopships and trains?

To date, very little research has addressed the activities of soldiers ‘between battles’, yet there is a large amount of information ranging from diary entries to personal letters to period photographs that help to illustrate what life might have been like for Australian soldiers between battles during the First World War.

Understanding the cultural lives and activities of soldiers is an important aspect of understanding the ANZAC experience as a whole, not because these activities made war more exciting or even entertaining, but because these activities made the atrocities of war bearable, and for many soldiers writing of their experiences during the war, these periods between battles gave soldiers hope and reinforced esprit de corps.

Boredom and tediousness were some of the great challenges of soldiers’ every-day life experiences, and the strategies soldiers employed to overcome these are equally as important as the battles themselves for us to commemorate if we are to fully understand the sacrifices made by Australian men, and women, on active service during the War.
Photograph: AWM collection PB11126 (  "Ulysses" A38 close-up of soldiers writing on Melbourne wharf. This photograph was taken by Josiah Barnes on the 25th October 1916.
This project seeks to commemorate the cultural lives of soldiers during the First World War by uncovering how they spent large amounts of time available to them in-between battles. It will focus on soldiers’ intellectual life in the form of reading, writing and other forms of entertainment such as music and plays, to understand how these activities of the mind formed part of the war experience for Australian troops.

A particular focus on the experiences of soldiers originating from Townsville and the North Queensland Region will allow audiences to identify with prominent names and places familiar to them through local history, as well as help to generate interest for local twenty-first century audiences.

Over the following weeks a team of highly skilled history undergraduate students from James Cook University will conduct surveys of local North Queensland Collections held at James Cook University Library  Special Collections, the Townsville City Council Library’s Local History Collection, as well as other heritage institutions and military libraries and museums across Townsville. 

The findings of the research project will be published as a series of blog posts here on the JCU Library News Blog, detailing all of the exciting discoveries unearthed through the project.  The corresponding exhibition is now on display at James Cook University Eddie Koiki Mabo Library - Townsville Campus and at the Townsville City Libraries - Flinders Street Branch until Sunday the 17th of May.

This project has been funded by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs through the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Scheme in the federal electorate of Herbert.

References:  Australian War Memorial, ‘Enlistment Statistics’ retrieved from (last accessed 12/01/15)

No comments: