In 2015, Bruce Scates and Marilyn Oppenheimer published an article about soldier settlement in New South Wales using the repatriation files. It is about the men who demand their rights, their entitlements. They had been promised something when they went to war. They felt cheated by the Government who sent them to work on the marginal lands. It is a great story about a man named John Carter, who is sent a bill by the department saying you owe the department 2,000 pounds and what does John do? He makes a tally of how much his time was worth.
How do you value four years in France, how do you value this injury in my leg and he sends his own bill back to the department saying you owe me money, mate and it’s this kind of moral economy amongst the soldier settlers. What we can do now is triangulate services; now we can move from - as in John’s case - from the service record to the repatriation record to the Lands Department file and that creates a much richer and fuller history.
The repatriation records show us how they struggled to survive the peace and that is not just a man’s story as this remarkable letter by the widow of Don Carney shows. She tells us what it’s like to live on the poverty line, pleading just a little bit of help at Christmas time, offering that insight into the intermediate economy of the poor. Women’s voices are threaded all through these repatriation files, such as this letter from Louisa Campbell. She wrote this letter to the department not long after the death of her husband. Now Lieutenant A.B. Campbell came back from the war with severe respiratory problems and she writes with an intimacy which I find quite disarming. ‘My husband’s death was the death of all my happiness. He was no whiner; he hid his sufferings with a smile.’ The circumstances of Lieutenant Campbell’s death are by no means clear but it was a violent death as violent a death as you will ever come across in war. Lieutenant Campbell’s body was cut in two when he fell from a railway carriage in Sydney. He may have opened that door because he was desperate for air. With both lungs collapsing, every breath was actually an effort or as the Coroner’s report here implies, he may have chosen a quicker death than the one that was in store. What was beyond dispute was that Louisa Campbell believed that his death was directly attributed to his war service. He gave his life for his country as surely as if he had died in battle. The department thought otherwise and Campbell’s death was deemed not war-related and her pension was assessed accordingly and that’s the most extraordinary and powerful message of these amazing records – it’s not just soldiers in uniform who bear the cost of war …