Harsh realities of war become family legacy
LIKE many older Australians, Jess Devine was born to family touched by the legacy of World War I but watching her father's fortitude strengthened her resolve to serve later in life.
Mrs Devine's father John Kennedy, her aunt Jess, and uncle Claude all served in World War I.
Claude was with the Light Horse 2nd Division in Egypt and Gallipoli and later alongside his brother, John, in the 47th Australian Infantry Battalion on the Western Front.
Her aunt was a military nurse and awarded the Royal Red Cross for Exceptional Nursing for her managing a hospital boat off the coast of Gallipoli and the Royal Military Hospital at Sidcup.
Of the three siblings, it was John who came closest to death.
"My father's battalion ended up with eight lots of re-enforcements and only 35 of original men lived, there were 800 men in the battalion so you can see what the slaughter was like,” Mrs Devine said.
During the German attack on Dernancourt, John Kennedy saw his best mate blown apart by an artillery barrage.
The sight had a profound affect. Later that evening his unit was holding a railway line under heavy fire and a sustained gas attack. Mrs Devine said her father was overcome by shell-shock.
"My father stood up and German sniper got him through the face,” she said.
"His brother was trying to put a gas mask on him and his jaw was hanging down to his chest.”
Despite the horrific wound, Mrs Devine said her father remained positive.
"He was always a cheerful man but the gas got him in the end,” she said.
John lived for about another 40 years until he caught a flu. Mrs Devine said it activated the dormant gas and destroyed his lungs. Most mustard gas survivors didn't last as long.
"I can remember going to my first Anzac day as a five-year-old and seeing all these young men with haggard, blue-grey faces, they were in the sun but shivering,” Mrs Devine said.
Decades later, it was Mrs Devine's turn to serve and she enlisted as an RAAF nurse to care for diggers liberated from Japanese prisoner of war camps.
"They were emaciated, wearing just a loin cloth, they had dysentery and tuberculous enteritis and all sorts of jungle diseases,” she said.
She cared for the soldiers in a Brisbane convalescent camp and said the broken men showed great courage in the face of their injuries.
"I remember the first Anzac Day after the war; I was on night shift and it was 2am, the boys were up strapping on their artificial limbs, finding their crutches, helping their mates, they all wanted to get into Martin Place for the Dawn Service,” she said.
"It's a sight I'll never forget.”