The centenary of World War I offered a significant opportunity to reflect on the experience and legacy of one of the world’s most devastating conflicts. In Australia such reflection was, on the whole, disappointingly one-dimensional: a four-year nationalistic and sanitised ‘memory orgy’ (to use Joan Beaumont’s wonderful phrase). It did, however, galvanise historians to produce important new studies of the war and to tackle long-standing questions about Australians’ attachment to Anzac. Many of those historians, established and early career, feature in The Great War: Aftermath and commemoration.
Editors Carolyn Holbrook and Keir Reeves take the reader on an almost chronological journey through the aftermath of the war and into the centenary period. The challenges faced by military officials charged with bringing home thousands of potentially unruly soldiers are explained, as are the ways in which Australians responded to the news of the long-wished-for armistice. Australia’s role in the postwar imperial project and its attempts to shore up its strategic position in the Pacific are placed in the context of the fear of another world conflict.