You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
We know that the men and women who served during the Great War rose to meet the challenges they were thrown, they faced death with courage, heroism, even humour. We know from their letters that they drew strength from their families at home, and in many cases downplayed the dangers they were facing so as not to worry those most dear to them.
Many of those lucky enough to come home again did not speak of their experiences, not in great detail. It was simply not what was done—instead they ‘got on’ with their lives…more, or less.
For the families of those who didn’t come home, sometimes the questions were never answered. Service records (held by the National Archives of Australia) hold many tentatively phrased, pleading letters from anguished parents wanting more information—any information—about the fate of their sons: how they died, if they had suffered, and the location of their final resting place. For some, it took years to learn anything concrete. For others, the answers never came.
The words of Atatürk provided solace for many as they came to terms with their loss, as they adapted to an unrecognisable, unimagined, post-war world.
Working on An Australian War Requiem has prompted us, the members of the Sydney University Graduate Choir and the guest choir, to go back through our own records, to sift our own memories of fathers, uncles, grandparents and great uncles: to question ‘Who is the young soldier in the old photograph gazing with such disconcerting directness at the camera? What is his story?’
These pages have been created so we can tell their stories, for us to honour our own family members who served in this terrible conflict.