We have been in the midst of several anniversaries of World War I and World War II the last couple of years. In 2014, we had the centenary of the start of World War I (the U.S. didn’t get involved until 1917.) In 2015 we had the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. With the centenary of World War I, many courses, trips, memorials, and programs have been developed and are on-going. No matter what aspect of World War I you want to know about, there is probably a book or educational program available to learn about it.
I’m taking a course through FutureLearn called World War 1: A History in 100 Stories. This is a free course through Monash University in Australia. The course intrigued me because of the stories. While the course is focused on the experience of the Australians, the concepts presented are broad enough they can be applied to any country who fought in the war. Many of the themes can also be considered when we look at the history of World War II.
The course is broken into five weeks.
Week 1: Monuments and Mourning
Week 2: Women and War
Week 3: The Other Anzac
Week 4: War Wounds
Week 5: The Old Lie
So far I have completed the first two weeks. Each week has several videos, many of which are silent, some in which professors are interviewed about topics. There are transcripts of each video and several suggested reading lists. Several hundred people are enrolled in the course and discussion in each step of the module for the week is encouraged.
In week 1, a lot of discussion was held on the mourning of the dead, how we memorialize them through monuments, and how the men who returned home dealt with life after war.
In week 2, the thing that hit me, which I am thinking and writing a lot about, is how women mobilized for war. Women primarily served in voluntary roles, not official military roles during the war. This was true in most countries who were involved in the fighting. It was a time when women were still considered homemakers, teachers, and nurses. Some women, especially in Australia, bought their own passage to the front lines to do what they could to help the war effort. Others supported the troops from the home front by working in factories, knitting socks, preparing care packages, and writing letters.
One woman named Ettie Rout, particularly intrigued me. Ettie worked to create kits to help save men from venereal disease, which was rampant. The military did not want to recognize the extent to which diseases were spread or recognize it as a medical condition. Ettie helped change some views and made a difference. What was unknown, or unrecognized, also at the time, was the long-lasting effects of these diseases, especially syphilis. The men brought the diseases home with them and infected their wives and girlfriends and some of those then spread to their unborn children.
The trauma of war did not end when the men and women left the battlefield. It endured for generations at home in various ways.
If you haven’t taken a course through FutureLearn, I encourage you to check out what they offer. They have so many topics it is mind boggling. If you are taking this course, I’d love to hear what you think of it. Please leave comments below.
© 2016 Jennifer Holik