21 April 2015

 researchers standing in-front of Gallipoli boat

Image: L–R: Laura James (PhD Candidate), Professor Bruce Scates (Director, National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University) and Rebecca Wheatley (PhD Candidate) standing in front of a Gallipoli landing boat at the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne. The boat features in the new Galleries of Remembrance at the Shrine, opened for the centenary anniversaries.
Image courtesy: Mark Warren

 

On 14 April 2015, a new memorial was dedicated in the grounds of Melbourne’s Domain. It stands immediately opposite the Shrine of Remembrance built in the 1920s to commemorate Victoria’s loss in the Great War.

This new memorial is also dedicated to remembering 1915 but it takes a very different form to the great granite structure raised several generations ago. Whereas the Shrine, to some, celebrated the conquest of the Ottoman Empire, this new monument, a crescent of woven steel, celebrates the peace between Australia and Turkey. It is styled a ‘Friendship Memorial’ and according to Professor Bruce Scates, author of the Cambridge History of the Shrine of Remembrance and an expert on memorials and commemoration, it signals a new way of remembering the loss of war.

“What is striking about the memorial is the way it gives voice to ordinary people, not just soldiers in the front line but also families who suffered the loss of loved ones far away,” Professor Scates said.

One of the features of the Australian Turkish Friendship Memorial is a series of quotations woven amidst the stone base. These include epitaphs from grieving mothers, extracts from diaries kept by soldiers on both sides of the trenches and the challenging statement made by Victoria Cross recipient, Hugo Throssell, on his return home to Australia: “I have seen enough of the horrors of war and want peace”.

“What we see here is a change in memorial culture,” Professor Scates said.

“One hundred years after the Great War we are seeking ways of remembering that are much more inclusive, that step beyond narrow national boundaries and that highlight the waste and futility of war.”

Professor Scates added that no memorial is simple and one-dimensional in the messages that it carries but that the contrast between the Turkish Friendship Memorial and the Shrine of Remembrance is “apparent for all to see”.

The Turkish Friendship memorial is one of many projects Professor Scates has been involved in over the last 15 years.

An ARC Discovery Projects grant commencing in 2002 (DP0210729) funded a pioneering study of pilgrimages to Great War cemeteries and battlefields.

This was both an archival study, capturing the experience of a grieving generation, and an ethnographic project, exploring the testimony and historical sensibilities of contemporary visitors.

Professor Scates was the first to survey backpackers making their journey to Gallipoli and to critically examine the meanings they invested in these visits. His subsequent ARC-funded work (ARC Discovery Project awarded in 2010, DP1093729) includes a study of World War II pilgrimage.

“The sites I visited were as diverse as they were confronting,” Professor Scates noted.

“They included trekking through jungles with former prisoners on the Thai-Burma railway, retracing the path of the infamous Sandakan death march, accompanying ageing veterans and their families to Bomber Command airfields in Britain and battlefields of Africa, Crete and Greece.”

This collaborative study profiling the work of early-career researchers as well as senior academics, like Return to GallipoliAnzac Journeys, was published by Cambridge University Press and short-listed for the Ernest Scott Award.1

Professor Scates’s current ARC Linkage Project (awarded in 2011, LP110100264) is charting the origins, development and meanings of Anzac day. The project includes a study of soldier settlement in New South Wales.

This book, co-authored with Professor Melanie Oppenheimer, will also be published by Cambridge University Press and involves the innovative use of repatriation files only recently released to historians. It also demonstrates how a history of war is also a rich social and cultural history touching on issues—like environmental degradation and rural resilience—vitally important today.

He is also the Project Leader on an international project exploring the changing meanings of Anzac Day. Partners on this project include the National Archives of Australia, the National Museum of Australia and the Commonwealth Department of Veterans’ Affairs along with international agencies including Turkey’s Gallipoli University, Kings College London and the Historial de la Grande Guerre in France.

“The Great War was a global conflict,” Professor Scates said.

“The involvement of these international partners helps us approach the understanding of this war in a truly transnational way.”

Alongside a suite of publications, Professor Scates has also sought new ways to disseminate his work. These include a historical novel, On Dangerous Ground, retracing the search for Gallipoli’s missing and exploring the contemporary politics of commemoration; an interactive website capturing the testimony of Australians today; and a series of radio and television appearances, including acclaimed BBC series The War and Changed the World and the ABC documentary, The War that Changed Us, recently nominated for a Logie Award.

Professor Scates has served on a number of State and National committees and chaired the panel of historians advising the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board. He has also authored reports (to the National Archives and the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board) that contributed to the securing of funds for the digitization of repatriation records.

“I would count this as one of the most important things I have done in the course of my career,” Professor Scates said.

“These new sources highlight the cost of war for families and communities. I believe they will help to change the way we remember the Great War.”

But Professor Scates’s next book promises to be his most telling. A History of First World War in 100 Stories (to be published by The Penguin Group) will appear on Remembrance Day this year.

The book will contain stories not often heard in the heroic narratives of commemoration, that is the stories of those permanently injured by war.

“Stories that tell of the human cost of war and how individuals, families and communities struggled to cope,” Professor Scates said.

The 100 Stories is also a collaborative undertaking with two PhD researchers attached to his ARC projects. It is also an educational initiative, a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) which was launched in the lead up to the centenary of the Gallipoli landings. You can view the MOOC online at the Future Learn website.

For more information please contact Professor Bruce Scates.

1Ernest Scott Award, awarded annually to the book judged to be the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand or to the history of colonisation.