2018 John Laffin Memorial Lecture

Report by Paul Simadas, FFFAIF Vice President


The 2018 John Laffin Memorial Lecture Day, held at 99 York St in Sydney’s CBD on 15 September was a rewarding day for those who attended. In a full day of talks our four speakers delivered informative lectures that were entertaining and reflective of the effort and sacrifice of Australians during and after the Great War.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Sweeney, former infantry officer and now battlefield historian and guide, delivered an enthralling talk on the Australian battle of Le Hamel fought on the 4th of July 1918. He presented the battle within its historical context, and explained the superb role of Australian staff work in preparing for the battle and the key elements to tactical success in its actual conduct. The battle set the standard for future Australian operations. The all-arms battle combining tanks, artillery, machine guns and aircraft with the infantry was explained in detail using maps and vignettes from the battle.

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Figure 1 Peter Sweeney outlines the Battle of Hamel

 Our second talk was delivered by one of the four 2017 John Laffin Memorial History Prize recipients, Nathaniel Sgambellone of Monash University. His talk, “Good Bye to All That” was based on his original research of the Repatriation files in the National Archives of Australia. Taking case studies of several individual returned servicemen, he presented a sensitive review of the plight confronting service men and their families in the post-war year. The end of the war brought a long shadow of difficulties to the incapacitated and “down on their luck” former diggers. The difficulties experienced by returned servicemen and their dependents in applying for pensions, seeking welfare and repatriation support, and in receiving suitable hospital care were revealed. The failure of the land grants scheme to make farmers of the men, and the mental anguish endured by many Australian families as a result of the war was described. The Memorial History prize is one of the several endeavours of the FFFAIF to remember “Digger” heritage.

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Figure 2 Nathaniel Sgambellone asking was it really “Good Bye to All That”?
– Repatriation arrangements and its impact on Australians after the war

Following a catered lunch of sandwiches and refreshments for the 35 attendees, the lecture day then looked at the role of the nurses of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS). Clare Ashton, senior nurse and expert historian in the role of nursing and the medical services in the Great War, presented a survey of the AANS. Around 2,500 nurses served overseas during the war as far afield as Lemnos, France and England. These nurses faced the stress of providing care to seriously wounded soldiers near the front lines and further back. The structure of the casualty clearing stations, and of the Stationary and General hospitals was explained. A case study of the 3rd Australian General Hospital was given that included period photographs of the nurses on duty in the wards and elsewhere. Clare wore one of the uniforms commissioned by the ABC for their drama series ANZAC Girls about Australian nurses in the Great War. She looked the part!

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Figure 3 Clare Ashton with Nurses of the AIF in the Great War

To close the day, FFFAIF Committee member Sue Tongue spoke about her Grandmother, Sister Nellie Pike, the mother of our late patron John Laffin and his younger sisters Patricia (Williams) and Daphne (Tongue). Nellie served in the 3rd Australian General Hospital. Sue displayed original documents and photos of Sister Pike’s War service. It was touching and sad to hear, yet Sue’s pride in her Grandmother’s service was evident to all listening.

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Figure 4 Sue Tongue sharing the story of Will Rose (KIA at Fromelles) and
Sister Nellie Pike

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Figure 5 John Laffin Memorial Lecture 2018 attendees


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