Valuing our veterans

Valuing our veterans cover
Table of contents

This commemorative publication gives practical advice on how to record veterans' memories. Undertaking interviews will help Australians understand why events such as Anzac Day are so important to veterans. 

Gathering Australia's war memories

Since World War I it has been widely recognised that Australia's war experiences have played a key role in our evolving sense of national identity. During the 1920s this feeling was given public expression through the ceremonies and other events of Anzac Day and Armistice Day (later Remembrance Day). Accompanying these national events was a diverse range of smaller commemorative occasions such as those organised by veterans themselves, perhaps as unit associations, to remember and celebrate their common experience of war.

In shires, towns and suburbs a local sense of involvement in war was remembered and commemorated through the erection of public memorials. These generally had as their centrepiece a list of the names of citizens who had offered themselves in their country's service. In this way Australians indicated that what was worthy of greatest honour was the contribution made by individuals towards meeting the challenge of the defence of democracy and freedom.

Preserving the Legend
Valuing our Veterans

Preserving the Legend

Australia's involvement in World War II reinforced what had become known as the 'Anzac legend'. A new generation—the sons and daughters of the men and women who had taken part in World War I—showed themselves to be as willing as their parents to bear the sacrifices required in fighting a modern international war. After the war their contribution was equally honoured by their participation in Anzac Day marches, in unit association reunions and, in many places, by the addition of their names to the local memorial. Veterans of subsequent conflicts, including the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Malayan Emergency and UN peacekeeping operations, among others, have also seen themselves as inheritors and upholders of the 'Anzac legend'.

In remembering war, therefore, Australians have tended to emphasise the value and importance of the experiences of individuals. With the passing of those men and women who actually served in war, these experiences will be lost. To prevent this we need to begin actively recording the memories of our veterans. We need to show the veteran community that we value the contribution they have made to our national life.

Valuing Our Veterans provides practical suggestions on how to record veterans' memories. It suggests how today's generation can breathe new meaning into something as seemingly distant and nebulous as the 'Anzac legend'. Undertaking some of the activities will help Australians, especially young Australians, understand why events such as Anzac Day are so important to veterans.

Through contact between the generations and listening to the individual stories of veterans, young people can become aware of the human aspect of past events.

Some might say that Australia's war experience is already well documented in books and articles, in photographs and on film, and in museum displays. Much war related material is now also available on the Internet. However, in twenty-first century, to allow these to be the sole repository of the 'Anzac legend' would be a tragedy. The opportunity still exists for Australians to understand and appreciate the experiences of war from those who lived through them—the veterans themselves.

At present, there are thousands of World War II veterans in Australia. They are a unique generation. Their memories stretch across the century to embrace their parents' participation in World War I, the development of Anzac Day in the 1920s and 1930s, their own service in World War II and their involvement in ex-service and other community organisations since 1945. On Anzac Day these veterans still form the core of the march, and with their passing the event will inevitably lose some of its drama and focus. Now is the time, as we approach the celebration of 100 years of nationhood, to hear from these Australians, their experience of war as well as the role this has played in their lives and that of the nation. To do so will add substance to the claim that their service is our heritage.

Valuing Our Veterans aims to encourage the production of a bank of interviews with veterans throughout Australia. Once stored and catalogued, the interviews will become an invaluable source for those who, in the future, wish to draw on the collective memories of veterans, particularly those from World War II. This interview material could have an impact, not only in schools, but in the wider community and on Australia's culture.

The World Wide Web is increasingly used by school students and others as a source of information. To balance the numerous existing sites dedicated to the war history of veterans from the United States of America and other English-speaking countries, it is essential that primary sources related to the war experiences of Australian veterans also have a place on the Web. They, too, deserve to feel valued, and the process of recording these memories will itself help to convince many veterans that what they have to say is not just being listened to out of politeness, but is recognised for its value well into the future.

Beyond creating historical records, interviews between young people in the community and veterans have importance in their own right. Listening to veterans shows the value we place on their contribution to Australia. For younger primary school students, there may be little need to go beyond that. For community groups, enjoying a pleasant social encounter with veterans may lead to deeper research projects.

Veterans themselves may wish to initiate contact with young people and others in the community. Some of the suggestions in the text are therefore directed toward helping veterans link to the community, especially schools.

Valuing Our Veterans

Many veterans have already recorded their recollections in print, on audio or video tape or in photographs. Ex-service organisations have often assisted in this process. Some have begun to create their own interactive pages for the Internet; others have contributed to rich oral traditions and shared their recollections with family members and friends. For those veterans who wish to continue to share with the wider community, for all those who have yet to do so but have often been told: "you should write a book about that", a Valuing Our Veterans project would be an ideal opportunity. In telling our stories we not only assist others to learn but often the telling itself serves to clarify our memories and deepen our understanding. It matters not if some of the details have become clouded by time. Communicating what is remembered is what is important.

Younger school-age students, in particular, are often enthralled to hear of events from what to them is an exotic past. Listening helps them visit that past and better understand and appreciate their present. Older students benefit by being able to associate the personal anecdote with the wider events of Australian and world history. Not only is the past brought to life, but as every individual's experience is different, every interview has the potential to give the student a new perspective on past events and to suggest new avenues for research.

Categorising, analysing, evaluating and comparing evidence are important parts of learning for today's students. Interviewing Australia's veterans will not only help develop these skills but also give students a sense of the past which is human, local, and linked to the 'Anzac legend'. Educators, particularly those concerned with the middle years of schooling, will welcome the emphasis on local experiences which develop critical thinking within a community setting.

Community groups, including libraries and local historical and genealogical societies, are eager to record the memories of local people. This interest in oral history stems from a growing desire to understand our past from the perspective of local areas, families and individuals. The way Australians experienced war varied throughout the country but there were common themes. Participating in the Valuing Our Veterans project will reveal some of those experiences, show how they differed between regions, and how they link to a common national story such as the 'Anzac legend'.

Making contact with Veterans

How community groups and schools can make contact with veterans

If students, teachers, local historians, genealogists, librarians or anyone else in the community wants to contact Australia's war veterans, they need simply to 'ask around'. There are thousands of veterans in Australia. They may be neighbours and relatives. They are often members of ex-service organisations, like the Returned & Services League (RSL). Some ageing World War II veterans are in retirement villages or nursing homes. Usually, local veterans are but a phone call away.

Locating veterans and making meaningful links with them means working collaboratively with a range of groups. For example, teachers, members of a local historical society and community arts workers at Redcliffe, near Brisbane, worked together with the local RSL to record interviews with veterans on video-tape. The final presentation was impressive and copies of the production now reside in the Redcliffe library, the RSL and several schools.

In the production of this tape members of the historical society provided general background information and helped students to see the local context. The RSL helped locate interviewees. Teachers assisted students clarify the purpose of interviewing veterans.

In the context of oral history projects for school students, Past-Continuous, edited by Judy Mackinolty, 1983, and published by the History Teachers' Association of Australia, remains an extremely useful book. In it, Tony Austin emphasises an obvious but often overlooked point about finding informants for oral histories—interview subjects are easier to locate if the purposes and outcomes of contacting them are clear. Nothing is more annoying than being interviewed by someone who has no clear idea of what the interview will achieve. It is therefore important to prepare properly for your interview.

Working closely with other groups and being clear about purposes will greatly assist making contact with suitable local veterans. Keeping records of who has been interviewed will also avoid over-using the same veterans. In the unlikely event that a network of community groups, including schools, local historical societies, the RSL, the CWA, pensioner groups, local councils, church groups and genealogical societies, fails to locate suitable interviewees, or when there is a desire to expand the definition of local to include a region, it may be necessary to resort to advertisements in regional newspapers or radio stations. (First check these sources for any human interest stories about veterans who may be willing to be interviewed.)

Advertising was a method used by Dr John Barrett when he prepared his extensive national collection of reminiscences by World War II veterans—We Were There: Australian Soldiers of World War II Tell Their Stories. He advertised not only in newspapers throughout Australia but in magazines and the publications of sporting bodies, churches, automobile associations, trade unions, businesses, ex-service and unit associations. Today a request on a computer-based discussion group may be all that is needed.

Beyond your local or regional community there are numerous organisations which can assist in a search for veterans, suggest ways of making contacts meaningful and provide further guidance for your research. The following web sites may be useful:

The Department of Veterans' Affairs web site provides general information, contacts for the Office of Australian War Graves, the Veterans' Affairs Network and links to related sites. It contains pages related to "How to find a Digger" and addresses questions like these:

Question: I am researching my family history and want to find information about a relative who served in the Australian Defence Force. Where do I start?

Question: My grandfather won some medals during the war. How can I find out what they were?

Question: My grandfather died during World War II but I don't know where he is buried. How can I find out?

All these sites provide information; some promote inquiry skills which are taught under the national curriculum in one form or another as investigating, communicating and participating.

*Disclaimer: This publication contains links or references to external web sites over which DVA has no direct control. Whilst reasonable care was taken at the time of publication, it is possible that the content of these external sites has changed, moved, or may no longer exist.

Veterans: how to contact schools and community groups

How veterans can make contact with community groups and schools

As described in the previous chapter, collaboration is the key. Whether you are an individual or a member of a group such as your local RSL, when seeking contact with groups such as schools, historical societies or other community organisations, understanding and relating their needs to your objectives is crucial. This will usually require discussion within your veterans' group and between your group and other community groups.

In such discussions questions like these will need to be addressed:

  • What do we want to do?
  • Why do we want to do it?
  • Which community groups do we want to contact?
  • What are the needs of these groups?
  • What activities can we jointly share?
  • Who is the ultimate audience for whatever it is that we produce?
  • What will we produce?
  • Identifying and contacting other groups should not prove difficult.

For a Valuing Our Veterans project it is an interaction between veterans and students which is most desired, and this is easiest to achieve through direct school contact. However, contact with curriculum policy developers may sometimes be preferred.

These people work for various boards and councils around the nation and can be found by telephoning the regional or head office of the education department in your State. Teacher in-service providers may also be a useful starting point and the various teachers' associations can help with contacts and ideas for collaborative actions. Your local history teachers' association, for example, may be eager to hear from a group of veterans who would be willing to run a workshop at their next conference. This does not involve lecturing a large group of people but rather a discussion with a small group of between 10 and 20 people. Contact details and information about teachers' associations in the social studies area, including history teachers' associations can be found at:

Other in-service providers include State schools systems, official bodies responsible for curriculum development, unions, and associations or commissions for independent or Catholic education. History departments at universities, local historical societies and genealogical groups may also be associated with teacher in-service training. Some may be developing projects which are relevant in their own right to the objectives of your veterans' group. Telephone books under 'Clubs and Societies' and Internet web pages are clearly places to explore. Failing that, proposed services or projects could be advertised in newspapers or on the web.

The needs of different school groups vary between schools and year levels.

Priorities might include:

  • raising students' awareness about Australia's involvement in war
  • developing empathy for veterans
  • veteran guest speackers who can provide first hand accounts of historical events, which can later be used with other 'primary' sources of information as part of students' research.

The use of veterans' testimonies as primary sources of information occurs more in secondary school than in primary, but not always. Either way, interactions with students should never be a quiz to see how much veterans can recall about a conflict. Nor should it be an exercise where veterans reveal all the facts and students later regurgitate them for the teacher in a test. What veterans reveal should later be compared with other eyewitness accounts to create interpretations, which in turn may be compared with the views offered by historians in text books. The emphasis should be on thinking objectively and making evaluations about the reliability of evidence.

Many community groups and local historical societies interested in the memories of war veterans are in the process of reinterpreting Australian history. They are re-examining it from the perspective of the local area, the family, or groups like Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders which until recently were often ignored in mainstream history texts. In schools using courses based on the key national curriculum area of Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE), traditional history may be re-examined for what it reveals about key values like social justice and political democracy. This is not to suggest that the way veterans tell their stories needs to change. It is simply a reminder of how these stories may be used, and understanding this may assist initial contacts.

In the context of Valuing Our Veterans, if veterans were to approach a school or community group offering eye-witness accounts of Australian war experiences the opportunity would usually be taken up. This is especially so if mention was made that veterans' accounts could be used to develop the students' inquiry skills of investigating, communicating and participating. These skills are central to student work in SOSE, and they are taught in one guise or another in all States. This is why, when it comes to ideas of what veterans can actually do with other groups after contact is made, Valuing our Veterans stresses these aspects.

Investigating, communicating and participating

After making contacts with veterans, schools and other groups need to decide how to set about participating in a shared program of activities. This will usually involve meetings or phone calls beforehand to ensure that there is agreement about the objectives of both groups and the purpose and nature of activities.

Activities can take a variety of forms; from general social activities where talking with veterans about their experiences is the main focus, to more focused learning experiences, where, for example, veterans may take a student group on a guided tour of an historic site or war relic. The activity may also engage students and other groups in a major national project to systematically record and preserve veterans' memories. A broad range of activities is possible and located within the descriptions of these three general forms are a number of examples of previous collaborative projects involving war veterans.

General social activities

The possibilities are endless. The aim is to put interested younger people in touch with veterans in fairly unstructured environments where veterans can outline their experiences, in any order or format they choose, and then answer questions. The object is to ensure that veterans invited to such an activity do feel valued. In the following example the venue is a school room, but it could equally occur in a local RSL hall, at a memorial, beside a relic in a park or anywhere else which was convenient.

It is the week before Anzac Day in a Year 5 primary school class. The students have learnt a little about the Gallipoli campaign and the Anzac tradition (and the origin of Anzac biscuits). They 'sort of' know how this tradition continued on the Kokoda Trail during World War II. However, most of these ten-year olds do not really understand why such events from the past continue to be commemorated. Some have grandparents who fought for Australia in World War II; some have great-grandparents who took part in World War I; some have no history of service. A few know of a relative who fought in some other post-1945 conflict. Most are beginning to understand that 'mateship', helping each other out, has been considered important in Australia for a long time.

The teacher has most recently focused on World War II and a few students are beginning to appreciate the importance of an Australian victory in that conflict, although not quite its significance for them personally. Several express some understanding that the way Australians fought and 'helped each other out' was how the Anzac tradition was continued. A textbook with war-era newspaper cuttings, diaries and photographs, showing what children their age did for the war effort, has been examined. Curiosities have been stimulated.

In consultation with the local RSL, contacted via a relative of one of the students, the teacher has arranged a one-hour visit by three World War II veterans—two men and a woman. The day before the visit the class met in small groups and prepared the questions they would ask the visitors. Some of these were:

  • What did you do in the war?
  • From your experience, how did Australians help each other out during the war?
  • What do you remember on Anzac Day?

This last question was prompted by the teacher and was one the three visitors were expecting. Otherwise, the visitors were simply asked to describe their war-time experiences. The teacher made clear to the class the students were firstly to listen to the veterans and only ask their questions if they had not been answered.

On the day, the veterans were welcomed and then joined small groups of about eight students. A cup of tea and biscuit helped set a relaxed tone. Stories were told and students were amazed at how many of their questions were covered, but, of course, others were raised. Often these were about feelings.

The next day each group reported back to the class about what had been learnt. On Anzac Day, two days later, most students took their teacher's advice and watched the march, either in person or on TV. A videotape of the Dawn Service and parts of the march, compiled by the teacher, was later watched in class.

The teacher understood that communicating what is learnt to a wider audience is not only important for valuing veterans but is also a skill central to the current curriculum. The entire experience was photographed by the teacher. The students helped to annotate the photographs and then put them on the school's Internet homepage.

Focused learning activities

A focused learning experience is one where learners, be they school students, local genealogists or some other group, examine veterans' war experiences by focusing on a theme or object. This could be Anzac Day, relations between ranks in the military, meal times, wounds and injuries, being a prisoner-of-war (POW), myths and realities, military equipment or any others which might be determined by veterans or community groups. Similarly the 'object' could take a number of forms. It could be an original source of evidence from the time of the war, such as a piece of equipment, a uniform, a letter, a newspaper cutting, a popular song, a tape of a radio broadcast or a film clip. Alternatively, it could derive from the post-war era and consist of a local memorial, photographs from the Australian War Memorial, an extract from an historian's work or a video segment tracing the history of the conflict. The point is to have a focus which will help elicit veterans' war memories.

The stimulus, theme or object should engage the listeners in active inquiry. For example, the theme may be explored before the listeners meet the veterans. As a result of this exploration the theme may be broken down into a series of sub-categories, presented as a table and used by the audience as a way of indexing what was said by the veterans. This would encourage active listening. Listeners are most likely to be actively engaged, and remember what was said, if they can analyse and perhaps mentally question what is said while they are listening.

The choice of theme or object could be made by schools, community groups and/or veterans. In the case study which follows, veterans in an ex-service association made the selection.

The ex-service association formed a working party responsible for making contacts with local schools and other community groups. Their aim was to encourage greater understanding, especially among the young, as to the purpose of their association and the significance of Anzac Day. In particular, they hoped to help local teenagers understand the experiences of World War II veterans and they wanted to get their message across by creating some active learning experiences. Everyone on the working party had had teenagers of their own and they agreed that 'preaching' at them was not the way to go. They decided to create an excursion experience for some nearby secondary schools to be centred around certain fixed objects, including a memorial, but able to be slightly altered when different members of their association volunteered to contribute to the excursion. After much discussion about the stories they would tell, the working party decided that they could all tell stories connected in some way to:

  • an anti-aircraft gun which sits in a local park;
  • the cafeteria of the local railway station;
  • a war-time photograph of some of their group;
  • a 1944 letter which one of their group had sent to his girlfriend, now wife; and
  • the local war memorial.

It was only at the last site that the Anzac Day link becomes clear to the audience. "Keeping them guessing" is an excellent strategy for maintaining attention.

Although this group lived in a provincial town, their actions are easily translated to larger urban settings. The veterans did not all have stories related to anti-aircraft guns, but some did and one member was particularly knowledgeable about the technical capacities of this particular gun. Some used the gun to launch into stories about being on the beaches of Balikpapan in Borneo 1945, just after the Japanese had been defeated, and how for them World War II involved 'not a shot fired in anger'. The gun became a cue to many different stories and the working party decided that, no matter which of their group spoke to students, this central point about a diverse, specialised armed forces containing people with varied memories would always be the main focus.

Similarly, some members had experienced departing from the railway station. Others remembered the U.S. troops arriving, and for others it brought back memories of railway stations far from home. The common thread to these memories involved departures to strange, new, often terrifying places and the strong friendships that are formed in these circumstances. The group members worked through their different stories, conscious always that others not among their group may have to tell them next time. They each made links to the photographs and the letter and certainly to the names on the memorial. They felt sure that if students were to listen to similar stories with the task of finding a common thread and connection to the memorial they would be able to do so. It was a short step from the memorial to the significance of Anzac Day. A 'speakers kit' was created containing some technical details, key dates, handouts and a few other tips the group thought important.

Numerous variations on this idea are possible. Certainly an alternative to the excursion may be needed. While students and teachers appreciate the opportunity to learn outside the classroom, school administrations often find the cost and the disruption to the school's timetable causes them to place a limit on the number which can occur. A 'travelling museum' approach may be an alternative. It could contain photographs of some of the sites mentioned above or different artefacts altogether.

No matter what focused learning experiences are created, always consider whether wider publicity would be useful. A camera of some sort will permit production of materials that may be used later as a teaching tool with other students.

Recording and preserving veterans' memories

It is highly desirable that the stories and other information gained from interviews with veterans be properly recorded and preserved. To do this requires a systematic approach to making contact with veterans, preparing for the interview, conducting the interview, and deciding in what form the results of the interview should be preserved and how this material might be used in the future.

The needs and interests of those making contacts with our war veterans will be varied. The different questions they ask will stimulate memories over a wide range of topics and it is this very range, from military battles to personal anecdotes, that sustains vibrant, collective memories. Memories of war, freely given, have the authority of individual eye-witness accounts, but also the collective authority of a veteran community whose motive for passing on these memories is 'lest we forget'.

To harness the emotive authority inherent in veterans' memories it might be better to focus on one theme—Anzac Day. What is remembered on such days? Young people do not have intuitive answers to such questions. If most interviews at some point address this question, the sum of the interviews will have a powerful organising theme and interviewers will deepen their understanding of what it means to be human.

'Do you mind telling me what you remember on Anzac Day?' This can be a very useful initial interview question. It can allow the veteran to provide wide-ranging answers and to feel valued, but it could also be distressing. Tact, some knowledge of the person about to be interviewed and flexibility in skirting around any distressing questions will be needed. Generally it is best to arrive at the interview with a key question and a range of three or four associated sub-questions. This way, the interview is likely to have more direction and veterans are more likely to feel that their specific memories are valued. However, do be ready to suspend your questions, if necessary. The key word is "listen".

Interviewers require many skills. Foremost among these is to be considerate and responsive toward the person being interviewed. In the sections "Preparing for the Interview" and "Conducting the Interview" the particular skills needed for an effective oral history project are described.

The Interview Outcomes section suggests what you might do with the results of your interview, while the next page, Communicating what was learnt suggests ways of letting your community know about the good work you have been doing.

Preparing for the Interview
Conducting the Interview
Recording the Veterans' Memories
Interview Outcomes

Preparing for the Interview

It is possible to interview someone without knowing anything about them or events that have affected them. If the questions are asked generally enough, with enough interest, most people will open up and tell their stories. For example, "Do you remember what you were doing on your twentieth birthday?" is usually an effective opener. In contrast, an over-prepared interviewer may intimidate, and a bombastic one may actually put words into the veteran's mouth by 'correcting' the facts being remembered. The ideal is to know a little about your subjects and the effects of the conflict on them, but not to reveal too much knowledge. Your questions should encourage those whom you interview to speak with confidence, certain that you are genuinely interested in them and what they have to say. To win this confidence it is often necessary to complete a little background research. For example, you may be able to discover:

  • the age of the veteran at the time of a conflict which interests you
  • the part of the world in which he or she served
  • rank and any military decorations
  • some details concerning any injuries sustained.

Clarify the purposes of your research. For example, are you interested in:

  • an aspect of the war, such as life at the front, mateship, or relationships between the ranks?
  • why individuals fought in this war?
  • living conditions for a POW?
  • a particular battle?
  • attitudes among the ranks toward conscription?
  • the Anzac Day experience over the years?
  • the general reaction of someone who had served with Australian military forces to his or her wartime experiences?

If your main response was to the last dot point, are you clear about your purpose? Have you brainstormed ways you might categorise the responses you receive? Categories could include the year of the war, the regions in which events took place, and the attitudes toward patriotism which were evident at the time.

Ultimately how interviews are categorised will determine how others will be able to access them. Basic information collected should identify at least each veteran's:

  • name
  • sex
  • date of first military involvement
  • rank upon leaving the armed forces
  • place/s of war service
  • date of interview
  • main topics covered; eg frontline experiences, friendships among the ranks, values/attitudes, food, recreations, wartime Anzac Day memories, etc.

Conducting the Interview

Once the necessary arrangements with veterans have been made, the actual interviews could take place at the local school, RSL club or other suitable community venue. The topics for discussion may grow out of a general social activity or a focused learning activity or be part of a wider research assignment. The expected interview outcomes should be clear to both parties.

While preparing for the interview, the purpose will have been clarified. The actual techniques of oral history interviews are described in a number of places, including Past-Continuous, and various internet sites. The New England's Association of Oral History Home Page, contains links to other oral history web sites, which are mainly in the USA but also include the National Library of Australia, where the Oral History Collection contains tape-recordings and transcripts. In fact, Australian public libraries are increasingly the source of excellent oral history material.

Some of the principles mentioned in such sources for conducting effective oral history interviews, suggest:

  • begin slowly, especially if the veteran is hesitant, with questions about something easy to remember, like food, or what the beds were like during the war
  • allow the person being interviewed to go from topic to topic
  • listen carefully and follow up points with a new question or two, rather than just reading out a list of prepared questions
  • try prompting with a few specific, concrete questions, perhaps about whether the veteran remembers a particular birthday or Christmas during the war, if you find that his or her memory is faltering
  • be clear about what you want
  • be considerate. If the answer is moving too far away from your question, gently ask another question to get the interview back on track, but do not forget that fascinating, unexpected details can sometimes be revealed when the interviewee is wandering down memory lane.

Recording the Veteran's Memories

Interviews can be taped (audio or video), transcribed from tape or produced from summary notes. For a Valuing Our Veterans project, as described in this book, you might decide that your outcome will be typed, edited, transcribed, categorised records. This means:

  • a typed summary of the interview is created but this does not have to include everything that was said
  • the summary should be, as far as is possible, in the words of the veteran. Quotation marks (" ") should be used to identify when the exact words spoken by the veteran are used. Three dots (...) should be used to show that words have been omitted from a quote
  • the final, summarised version, complete with quotes, must be signed by the veteran to signify that he or she accepts that the summary is an accurate reflection of what was said. If the veteran wants changes made to the written record, even if you are sure you recorded them correctly the first time, the changes must be made.

Interview Outcomes

In thinking about what to do with the results of your interviews, see what has been done in Australia and other parts of the world.

  • A relevant project undertaken by Ararat Secondary College, Victoria, is "Faces of War". The project seeks to involve students in gaining an understanding of war and sharing this through the Internet with other students in Australia and overseas.[fin]Disclaimer: This publication contains links or references to external web sites over which DVA has no direct control. Whilst reasonable care was taken at the time of publication, it is possible that the content of these external sites has changed, moved, or may no longer exist.
  • A very sophisticated collection of veteran interviews was compiled by Canadian historian Timothy Travers. It consists of 24 sound recordings of interviews with World War I veterans. A list of veterans interviewed and interview synopses are also included.
  • To gain some idea of what can be achieved by even very young students, look at a piece of work written after seventh-grade students interviewed war veterans at the Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor, Maine:*

Although these are all examples from the USA they indicate what could be done with interview material from Australian veterans, and how it might also find a place on the world stage of the Internet. Of course, there are some wonderful Australian examples of what can be done with oral history. See, for instance, what the Museum of Brisbane has done.

By 2001, the centenary of Federation, what amounts to a comprehensive index of Australian veterans' memories could be available on Internet sites around Australia. In this way, the service of many of Australia's veterans will have been recorded. Future generations will have access to a vast array of first-hand evidence which can provide shape and form to the proposition that the Anzac legend was central to the development of the Australian identity in the twentieth century.

Equally, through such a program, thousands of young people will have had the opportunity to meet veterans. Moreover, students will have participated in a valuable learning experience, fully justified in terms of current national curriculum objectives, and which will have significantly added to our knowledge of Australia's past.

Finally, to ensure maximum public awareness of this project, tell others what you have done.

Communicating what is learnt

Your Valuing Our Veterans project may have involved any number of:

  • General Social Activities
  • Focused Learning Activities
  • Projects to systematically record and preserve veterans' memories.

The work you have undertaken is important, both to you and the veterans, and you should try to gain publicity for your efforts. This will help celebrate those veterans you have met and encourage others to join in the program.

Depending on your community, there are numerous opportunities to pass on what is learnt. Here are some ideas. We would be pleased to hear of more.

  • Tell the local media what you are doing. Most newspapers and radio and TV stations are always looking for interesting local stories. Write to or telephone the news editor, talk show hosts or program directors.
  • Mount an exhibition in your local shopping centre, especially in the lead-up to the major commemorative days—Anzac Day and Remembrance Day.
  • Contact the history teachers' association in your State. The members may be interested in publishing what you did and in raising awareness of this history education campaign.
  • Create a video of your Valuing Our Veterans activities. This could be used to promote your Internet home page. Secondary schools could use the tape to assist students with subject selection.
  • In conjunction with veterans' organisations, community groups and schools, arrange a public presentation, to which the local media are invited. The presentation, which could be on Anzac or Remembrance Day, might comprise:
    • a bound set of collected interview transcripts
    • a set of photographs from a general social activity
    • an information brochure about a local monument, or
    • the 'presentation' to a local library of a World Wide Web link to the school's interview collection.

General Outcomes

Many outcomes are possible from general social encounters between students and veterans. Veterans can become a regular part of the school's Anzac week ceremonies or other special occasions. Classes could run special commemorative events built around themes they have studied at which veterans could be invited to be present. Historical societies could work in conjunction with local schools to provide students with learning experiences which centre on veterans. There are numerous possibilities and, as links between libraries, schools, veterans organisations, historical societies, history teachers associations, genealogical societies and others continue to grow, so will the range of outcomes.

Watch out for new web sites which have material relevant to your project. Some current web sites that may be of assistance are:

The Department of Veterans' Affairs would like to know if you undertake a Valuing Our Veterans project which results in the addition of home pages to your school or community Web site. If you contact us we can arrange a link from our website to yours.

  • 1. Disclaimer: This publication contains links or references to external web sites over which DVA has no direct control. Whilst reasonable care was taken at the time of publication, it is possible that the content of these external sites has changed, moved, or may no longer exist.

List of sites

List of Internet sites referred to in the main text

Researched and written by

Ian Gray BA (Hons); Dip.Ed.; M.Ed.; Head of History, Brisbane Girls Grammar School; Executive Member, Queensland History Teachers Association; SOSE Project Officer, Queensland Schools Curriculum Council.


The Department of Veterans' Affairs gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the following in the preparation of this publication:

  • Students of Telopea Park High School, ACT
  • Mrs Joyce Braithwaite
  • Mr Dick Cresswell DFC
  • Mr Robert Healy
  • Mr Bede Tongs MM

* Disclaimer: This publication contains links or references to external web sites over which DVA has no direct control. Whilst reasonable care was taken at the time of publication, it is possible that the content of these external sites has changed, moved, or may no longer exist.

  • 1. Disclaimer: This publication contains links or references to external web sites over which DVA has no direct control. Whilst reasonable care was taken at the time of publication, it is possible that the content of these external sites has changed, moved, or may no longer exist.