Trigger Warning-This post includes images and stories that may be triggering or frightening for individuals.
Vin: How do people cope with the loss of someone through military experiences?
Sophie: War is an issue that impacts all parties involved. From those fighting for their country to their families waiting anxiously at home to those grieving a loved one’s death. War does not pick and choose but rather impacts generation after generation as they try to deal with the toll war puts on those involved.
This episode of war stories features Vin and Nancy, a couple who do presentations on the Vietnam war to school students in New South Wales. With Vin being a war veteran and both parties having a family history heavily impacted by war, the couple share their insight into how people cope with the impact of war.
Vin: In retirement, Nancy and I do presentations on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Association on Australia’s involvement with the Vietnam War, and the impact of the war on veterans and their families. That’s sort of our little retirement activity.
Nancy: Instead of bowls or golf.
Vin: We don’t play bowls or golf or something or other.
Vin and Nancy Cosgrove
‘Over 18 years we have done over 1000 presentations to year 10 kids, with a combined audience of 100,000 year 10 kids. So, it’s quite significant really. And I guess we do that because it’s sort of, I don’t know it’s in our DNA. My father was a World War II Veteran. Nancy’s father was a World War II Veteran. Two of her uncles were killed in the Kokoda Campaign up in Papua New Guinea in World War II. I have five great uncles that were killed on the western front in World War I at France and Belgium. I served in Vietnam as a combat soldier and part of our personal history apart from the Vietnam war presentations that we do; we have really delved into our own family history…military history. There is so much of it that was unknown to us. I didn’t know that I had five great uncles killed on the western front until several years ago. I was just totally unaware of it.’Over 18 years we have done over 1000 presentations to year 10 kids, with a combined audience of 100,000 year 10 kids. So, it’s quite significant really. And I guess we do that because it’s sort of, I don’t know it’s in our DNA. My father was a World War II Veteran. Nancy’s father was a World War II Veteran. Two of her uncles were killed in the Kokoda Campaign up in Papua New Guinea in World War II. I have five great uncles that were killed on the western front in World War I at France and Belgium. I served in Vietnam as a combat soldier and part of our personal history apart from the Vietnam war presentations that we do; we have really delved into our own family history…military history. There is so much of it that was unknown to us. I didn’t know that I had five great uncles killed on the western front until several years ago. I was just totally unaware of it.
Nancy: And three of them were his grandmother’s brothers, and she was at his farewell before he went to Vietnam and his welcome home when he came back. And she never spoke about it.
Vin: She never spoke about it. And I think one of the reasons could have been that her three brothers, basically two of them were killed in action the third bloke was sent home wounded, gassed from World War I, and just turned into a totally uncontrolled alcoholic and just disappeared from life.
Nancy: He’d come back and work for a little while, get a bit of money and go off on a bender. And then he’d come back again, and one time he just never came back. They don’t know what happened.
Vin: So my father always said, when we’d talk about family history or if we were sitting around the table having a chat, we’d say ‘dad tell us about your history’, and he’d say ‘The history starts with me’. And he used to get cranky if we would try to dig into it a bit and I think I am coming to terms with why he said that now. His uncles who would have, if they served in the war and came home, I assume would get married and produce and have children and the family would grow. But in dad’s case, that part of the family was wiped out and he was the only son of his mother to start a family.
Nance’s side of the family is more known about because it was more recent, it was in World War II.
Nancy: And my mum was alive until a couple of years ago, although she didn’t talk much.
Vin: No, her mother’s two brothers were the ones that were killed in the Kokoda Campaign in 1942. So, you (Nancy) had plenty of information about that.
Nancy: Always the photos of the boys, ‘and that was Bert that was killed and that was Lyle that was killed’, and always in my mind it was always you know ‘Bert was killed on the 24th November 1942, Lyle was killed on the 18th of December 1942’. That’s how I’ve often seen that I can just say that straight off. How did my grandmother cope? She didn’t very well, she dies in 1948, but it could have been because she had 12 children too so. And she had six sons involved in World War II so I would think stress and worry, and all that sort of thing would have impacted her.
We’ve got friends in Windsor, their son was killed in Afghanistan so you know that was in 2007 and Luke’s dad John, you can still see how physically it has impacted on him. It really, really knocked him around.
Vin: We tried to give them a bit of support having lost their son and you could see just how much it had impacted the father. Mum, outwardly anyway, appears to cope quite well. Any little function we have been to with them and the sons mentioned, Dad cries, you know the tears just roll down his face.
Nancy: The other really, really sad thing for them was they were harassed by that man Haron Monis, you know the bloke who had the bomb at the Lint café? He was ringing them up and sending them letters about you know how their son deserved to die and all those sorts of stuff.
Vin: That’s one of the things about democracy and our beautiful country, where that person was allowed, well not allowed but he did, he sent letters to those parents who’d lost their son in Afghanistan basically saying, well you know ‘he deserved to die’ or whatever. I mean I don’t know that I could control myself if somebody did that I’d be more inclined to want to go and pick up a baseball bat and you know, attack the person. Things like that just, I don’t know its, it’s difficult to understand how people….
Nancy: I think Margery coped with it better. Two years after it they had a thing, it was a pedestrian bridge over one of the creeks and rivers and they wanted to know, you know ‘what will we call this bridge?’ and it ended up being the Luke Worsley bridge. She goes down there and puts the flag up every morning and takes the flag down every night and I think that is part of her coping, that she’s got something that she does for Luke every day.
Vin: One of the ones in our family, is this guy Fines Henry Godding, my great uncle. He landed at Gallipoli, he wasn’t in the first wave.
Nancy: He was in May, it was May 1915.
Vin: April, May, so he was only a month later. He served through Gallipoli.
Nancy: He was wounded in Gallipoli.
Vin: Yeah, wounded, shot through the shoulder at Gallipoli, sent off to England and patched up, retrained, finished up going into the trenches in France and Belgium. He was blown up another time, injured sort of a fair amount of this body, patched up again, sent back and eventually, he was killed in action in, what’s the date?
Nancy: The 30th of September 1918, six weeks before the war ended.
Vin: So he served 1300 odd days and was killed just before the end of World War I.
Nancy: His younger brother, he was 19, went over there. He was somebody they confirmed he was dead the artillery barrage obviously blew the body to pieces and stuff. So his mother wrote to the military authorities, and its all on the file in the national archives, saying ‘can you give me any information about my son, Clarence Sydney Godding’, because I am anxious to hear about him because he may be a prisoner of the Germans’. And she had that hope in her mind that she was a prisoner of war. Then she went on and said ‘and my other son Fines Henry Godding, in his recent letter to me he’s told me how, and he’s been wounded three times already, and how he’s got really bad headaches and he hasn’t any strength, he can hardly pick his pack up and can you please send him back to me’.
Vin: The letter that she got back from the military authorities basically saying ‘well don’t worry about your son, if we can see that he’s not well enough to carry on, we’ll do something about it and then dismiss it’. Then further they went on to say, ‘if there is any news, we will send it to his father’. Back in that period of history,
Nancy: Very paternalistic
Vin: The information only went to the father
Nancy: Medals, it didn’t matter if the parents were separated or whatever. The medals went to the father, everything went to the father.
Vin: That’s an indication of how times have changed. You know, my mum, my mother, now she had lost her uncle in World War I, she’s married, mum and dad had two kids, then dad went off to war in 1941 or something, over to England. He was away for two years, he came home on leave, mums pregnant again and off he goes again. Basically mum’s here in Australia, towards the end of World War II with four little kids and dads over there.
Nancy: Three little kids. Three little kids, you weren’t born yet.
Vin: Oh, three little kids, I wasn’t born till after that, that’s right yeah, three little kids. So mums living a live out in the bush. But in mum’s day, it was chopping wood to light a fire in the kitchen to cook a meal; It was lighting a copper to boil water to wash the clothes; it was a big hand wringer to wring the clothes through before you put them out on the line. So mum went through all of those things. Dad comes home from the war so, an uncle killed, a husband in the war for four years, then he comes home and then she’s pregnant again. But then time goes on, I am born, I grow up, I serve in Vietnam. So mum’s got an Uncle, a husband, a son off to a war. When we came home from Vietnam, my mother and father came up to Brisbane to our welcome home parade. And when I was getting off the ship there was a decking down there and because there were a lot of people there to welcome their kids, sons home and there were military police standing along telling people ‘keep back, get out of the road’ and my mum was only much smaller.
Nancy: She was 5 foot and half an inch tall.
Vin: Mum was dressed in her high heel shoes and skirt and hat and gloves
Nancy: Stockings, hat, gloves, the whole thing.
Vin’s parents the day he returned from Vietnam – June 1968.
Vin: And the bloody cop, the police there were saying ‘don’t cross the rope’. Mum just jumped over the rope and ran over and gave me a big cuddle. You know that was a huge moment for mum. She’s had an uncle, a husband and now a son come home from a war situation and he’s home. So I get the big cuddle and I’ll never forget that. But further to that, we were down in Canberra some years later.
Vin: 1990 and we didn’t really appreciate all the things that had happened to mum. We took her for a drive to Canberra to show her a few things. And we took her to the War Memorial. You know, and I am thinking, ‘there’s some wonderful things here for you to see mum’ not realising that so much of that there would have been you know, something that she would have had no desire to be involved in. But we were wondering around.
Vin and Nancy: An announcement came over the PA.
Vin: And it’s just announcing to people that basically Australia was just um, sending one of its battleships to join the war in the first Gulf War. And it just so happened that my mother’s grandson was on that ship.
Nancy: Her grandson was on that ship.
Vin: And mum physically bucked at the knees and she said ‘get me out of here’.
Nancy: ‘I can’t do this again’.
Vin with his mother, Louisa Doris (Dorrie) prior to his deployment to Vietnam in early 1967.
Vin: ‘I can’t do this anymore’. You know, I wasn’t fully comprehending at the time, what the impact on my mother was from all of this.
Today, we are constantly hearing about the problems that our service personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan are having sort of transiting from military service back into civilian life. Now when I think back to my father when he came back from World War II, there was nothing on offer for those people.
Nancy: But he had his mates around him.
Vin: They were expected to get on with their life. World War I, men were coming home from their suffering, from what they call shellshock, and there was nothing much on offer for those men either. They were expected to get on with their life and the big system of government did very little for them. The Vietnam Veterans, things were starting to happen. Our Government of today is anguishing with the problem of how can they assist our service personnel who have served their country. There’s a royal commission currently happening, on how to help veterans transition back into the workforce so the government is doing something, but back in our day, it didn’t happen. The transition for me, happened because of Nancy. When I came back from Vietnam, Nancy was one of the first people that I sort of met other than my mother and father. I was very fortunate that I had somebody that was understanding of a veteran, that understood what some veterans had been through. As a combat soldier, my service in Vietnam was to seek out, capture or kill the enemy, it wasn’t to be nice to people. If you’re an infantry soldier in the military, that’s your job-get out there and face to face with the enemy.
I can name any number of Vietnam veterans whose marriages have failed, you know for whatever reason they weren’t compatible to the point that the wife could handle the problems that the husband had and work through them.