I am a little late with this week’s Book Snap. I had to take a trip to emergency with Dan. Long arms and ceiling fans are not a good combination. Fortunately nothing was broken, just two fingers gashed and a couple of nasty bruised and swollen joints. Dan has quite long bony fingers and it’s surprising how much they can bleed. After a few x-rays, 3 stitches and a tetanus injection, (just to be on the safe side), he’s back to his usual self.
A few days ago I started reading Regeneration by Pat Barker. First published in 1991, it is the first in her Regeneration trilogy about World War One. I had actually read the third book, The Ghost Road, quite some years ago, not knowing it was part of a trilogy. Set in 1917, Regeneration deals with shell-shock, the treatment of soldiers in psychiatric care with the intention of getting them back to the front where they belonged, and the relationship between poet, Siegfried Sassoon, and army psychiatrist, W. H. Rivers.
Sassoon and Rivers did meet in a psychiatric hospital and Regeneration is a fictionalised account of their relationship, so there is a blend between real and fictional characters. Barker reveals some of the horrific experiences of the soldiers under treatment and the official attitude towards shell-shock, which accused them of being “conchies”, as well as cowards, shirkers, scrimshankers and degenerates. There was little compassion for these traumatised soldiers in a horrific war that cost a huge amount of lives.
Sassoon was hospitalised for psychiatric assessment after he wrote “Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration” in July 1917. The declaration was a protest against the continuation of a war that he believed had become “a war of aggression and conquest” and the deception of the troops who were being sacrificed “for ends…evil and unjust.” It was during his hospitalisation, that he also met another well-known war poet, Wilfred Owens. I remember studying the war poetry of Owens in high school. While Sassoon survived the war and became well-known for both his prose and poetry and as a champion for Owen’s work, Owen was killed in action one week before Armistice.
Regeneration is pictured above beside the Mothers’ Memorial in Toowoomba. This memorial was commissioned by the mothers of Toowoomba and erected in 1922 as a tribute for the sons that never returned. According to Monument Australia, very few memorials were commissioned by women, so the Toowoomba memorial is historically significant. Apparently, the women sold Sweet Violets to raise the money for the memorial and in 1996 the Sweet Violet became Toowoomba’s floral emblem.
The Memorial also displays a list of soldiers lost in World War Two and is situated in the Mothers’ Memorial Gardens, opposite Queens Park. There are also memorials and plaques for both men and women killed in other conflicts, including Korea and Vietnam. It is a beautiful, restful garden, with manicured lawns, a rose garden, a fountain and benches for private meditation – a most fitting tribute for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.