Friday, 16 May 2014

The war that ended peace

The enduring lesson of 1914 is that people are not predestined to mutual slaughter. "There are always choices."

Margaret MacMillan, The War that Ended Peace

This recently released book is high on my 'must read' list. When most of us think of the origins of this so-called 'War to End All Wars' we vaguely recall school lessons about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo in June 1914 and think no more deeply than that.

Margaret MacMillan asks us to consider a different proposition altogether: that this war was not necessary or inevitable but was a deliberate choice on the part of all the European powers. And so 37 million people were killed or wounded, a generation of young men were lost to the world, the political map of Europe was irretrievably changed, Germany was humiliated and just over 20 years later the world was thrown into a second world war.

So, what might the world have been like if the political leaders of the day had been less irresponsible and more capable? It's an interesting thought and if you think about the effects (and after effects) the war had on small communities like Coburg, you start to imagine that it might never have developed in the way it did. 

Before 1914, Coburg was a small outlying area of Melbourne, still considered rural in many ways, with farms and market gardens aplenty. Pentridge Prison was a major employer as were the Tramways (and the Council, of course). 

Before 1914, there was little development north of Gaffney Street/Murray Road or to the west in Pascoe Vale. These areas were transformed by the Soldier Settlement Housing Scheme introduced in the 1920s. 

Then street names like Gallipoli Parade, Le Cateau Street, Lemnos Avenue, Gezireh Street and Heliopolis Street in the Coburg West/Pascoe Vale area began to appear. 

In the north streets were named Krithia Street, Anzac Avenue and Suvla Grove after places of wartime significance. 

In Merlynston, returned soldier, Coburg Councillor, real estate agent and property developer Captain Donald Bain named streets after ships that carried soldiers to and from the war, Galeka Street, for example. He even named his home 'The Dug Out'.  

Generals were remembered, too: Foch Avenue and Haig Avenue, for example, although who would want to remember General Haig is questionable. 

Other war heroes were honoured: Jacka Avenue after Albert Jacka, winner of the Victoria Cross, for example.

These streets, and others like them, are permanent reminders of that first catastrophic world conflict. It's one hundred years this year since that war began and still we live with its legacy, even if we don't recognise it as such.


  1. I like the sound of this book. Sounds like an interesting read.
    How many women would not have been doomed to live out their lives alone, never having the opportunity to have a family of their own, forever the maiden aunt?

  2. I agree, Jenny. And how many families would not have lived for years with the psychological scars inflicted on them by the many returned men who were haunted by the war for the rest of their lives? I can remember reading Patsy Adam Smith's work for the first time and being struck by her childhood memories of old men with only one limb or some other complaint. Then I searched my memory of my own childhood in the 1950s and realised that many of those men were still alive and still walking around on their crutches or with an empty coat sleeve pinned up at the shoulder. That legacy lasted a long time, well after the next war came along.