Conflict + Society Webinar 4
Tuesday 27 October
5pm AEDT (GMT + 10hrs)
Webinar on Zoom
‘I ought to have been killed at the War’: Studying Australian First World War Veterans who Died by Suicide
In February 1945, Dr Sylvester J. Minogue published the findings of his study into suicides by First World War veterans in New South Wales. Tens of thousands of coronial files were analysed, and the study concluded, alarmingly, that First World War veterans were significantly more likely to die by suicide than their civilian counterparts. Minogue drew a clear link between war service and an increased risk of suicide, and made it clear that immediate action was needed to prevent veterans of the then-current war from suffering the same fate upon their return. Yet, in 2020, we find ourselves still in the midst of a veteran suicide crisis.
This paper aims to provide historical context to the issue of veteran suicide. Minogue’s study will be revisited and that data compared with the findings of my own analysis of over twelve thousand police and coronial files in South Australia using the same methodology. It will demonstrate how a large number of First World War veterans who died by suicide struggled enormously with social isolation, substance misuse, and both physical and mental illness prior to their deaths – factors that are still resoundingly echoed by the hardships faced by at-risk veterans today.
Jessie Lewcock is a current PhD candidate in History at the University of Adelaide. Her thesis will examine instances of suicide by South Australian veterans of the First and Second World Wars, review the responses of government and veteran groups to the issue of suicide, and shed light on the experiences of the loved ones left behind. Jessie currently holds a Bachelor of Teaching and a Bachelor of Arts in History with Honours. She has also completed a summer school program at Queen’s University Belfast that specialised in post-Troubles policing and restorative justice. In 2019, she was awarded the Hugh Martin Weir prize by the University of Adelaide Library for the meritorious study of Australia’s participation in conflict.