As with other confronting subjects, the research for Tramway Anzacs required a certain level of detachment. Given so many of them were killed or suffered gruesome wounds – and the level of detail in the records we researched – it was necessary to maintain a clear mental separation from the stories. Without it, we would have likely been overwhelmed with the tragedy and horror of the First World War; and the impact on real, relatable people. One cannot begin to conceive of how difficult it must have been to have lived through that experience, either as a soldier or family member back home.
Those with a darker sense of humour might find something in the more odd ways some met their end; for instance, the story of the poor digger who was urinating out the window of a moving troop train on the way to the front. One moment he was there, and the next moment – whoops! – he fell out and was done for. Understandably, the authorities did not enlighten his family of how he died.
But whether you see the humour of these tales or not, little can reduce the sense of terrible loss and tragedy that their stories convey.
In almost every case we investigated, the war had a terrible impact on the Tramway Anzacs, and not just death or dismemberment. Many of those who survived died young on returning to civilian life, their health ruined by service in the trenches. Others were committed to mental asylums, or drank themselves to oblivion.
For many serious researchers, the glorification of the Anzacs of the First World War by some ignores the harsh reality of the war and its impact, both during and after the conflict. They were ordinary men put in a terrible time and place, required to do horrible things. In one way or another, it cost them their lives.
Regardless of their individual circumstances or stories, we still remember them and their service.