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Home arrow Political science arrow Australians and the First World War : Local-Global Connections and Contexts
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Continuing Issues after the War

After the war the Australian military authorities found themselves grappling with a number of other problems related to foreign-born soldiers in the AIF. Notification of death was a key issue that often resulted in extensive correspondence between Australian officials and various consular agents as many nations required formal death certificates for their citi- zens.47 For many foreign-born soldiers killed or injured, the problem of notification of next of kin was enormous and often continued for many years. Romanian Hyman Wittner, for example, who was killed in action in France in 1917, had listed his father as next of kin; however, by 1917 his father was also deceased. It was not until 1934 when a brother, Jacob, was located that Hyman’s medals and memorials could finally be sent to the Wittner family.48 Other families were not so fortunate. Enquiries through the Greek Consul failed to find the relatives of Greek-born Arthur Halkus after he was killed in France in 1917. The last entry in his file in 1920 states that his effects remain with the Public Trustees Office.49 Despite considerable efforts by Australian authorities—including extensive correspondence, consular enquires, and newspaper advertisements—soldier after soldier’s files were closed, stamped “untraceable.”

Just like their Australian counterparts, the difficulties of war continued for foreign-born soldiers well after the armistice. Given that, as Marina Larsson explains, “the family became a key site of repatriation for disabled soldiers [and] [w]ives and mothers most commonly became the primary caregivers” for many of these men, the absence of family in Australia must have been very difficult.50 Similarly, as Joan Beaumont argues, eligibility for pensions resulted in “ongoing and often difficult negotiation^] between veterans and the state.”51 Negotiations were potentially made even more challenging for these foreign-born men due to their lack of knowledge of available services, inadequate familiarity with English or ongoing migration. It is difficult to determine how many of these men and their families received assistance after the war or whether the percentage was considerably less than that of the Anglo-Australian born. To date, studies on post-war pensions and services do not distinguish individual soldiers or nationalities. Certainly for foreign-born soldiers, especially those who were not naturalised, absence of proof of being a bone fide resident under the War Pensions Act (1914) meant that some soldiers and their families may not have been eligible for pensions or repatriation and health benefits. Even for those who were naturalised there were problems, especially if they did not settle back in Australia. Romanian-born John Kalpaktchieff returned to Europe after his discharge as medically unfit in 1915. His brother wrote to the Australian Repatriation authorities explaining that in 1922, having “wander[ed] in all parts of the world without any hope and aim,” Kalpaktchieff had arrived at his house in Bulgaria without any possessions and with a “psychiatric disease insanity.” His brother stated that he had been supporting him but felt, as Kalpaktchieff was a naturalised Australian, he should be eligible for a pension. The Australian authorities disagreed.52 Nationality, it appears, led to some veterans falling between the cracks.53

For others, racial tension was ongoing and war service did not guarantee respect or any relief from the xenophobia of the pre-war period.

Greek-born soldier Pandelis Cosopodiotis and his family struggled with his long-term debility associated with trench fever and the pension reductions he experienced through the 1920s. After his death, his wife lodged a series of official complaints about what she labelled the “very cruel and callous” treatment the family had been subjected to. She wrote of her husband’s distress at being dismissed as a “stupid dago” in the repatriation hospital, of being told to be quiet and make less noise, and of the lack of last rites as he was dying.54

 
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