‘War’s Genetic Legacy’, a personal essay

Header photo: my maternal grandparents, Clarice Jessie Lawrence (née Daley) and Ernest Alfred Lawrence.

Peggy, my mother, was just thirteen years old when her father, Ernest Alfred Lawrence, died from the complications of alcoholism, aged just forty-eight, in 1933. When Peggy was twenty-five she lost her mother, Clarice, to cancer.

The story surrounding my grandparents’ marriage, and my mother’s youth, is a complicated one that has, surprisingly, impacted on my own life in ways I am only just beginning to fully understand.

The twenty-first century feminist in me has always balked at the knowledge that Clarice’s father, John Robert Daley, Builder, amassed personal wealth via marrying a wealthy woman, Jessie Sim, and went on to build a number of landmark St Kilda structures. Meanwhile, his wife and daughters had no property rights or money of their own, and could be punished, as Clarice was, for not maintaining the family dignity to his specifications. His sons were free to do as they liked. It appears that Daley senior also kept a mistress, to whom he had illegitimate children.
Clarice’s sister, Ruby, travelled around Europe in the 1930s and never married. The accepted family wisdom was that ‘no man was ever good enough for her’, but the abiding impression I am left with is that she was not prepared to give up her financial independence by marrying. Ruby lived in the downstairs section of Turriff in Elwood, with Mollie, Les’ much younger widow, inhabiting the upstairs section, throughout my childhood in the 1960s and 70s, dying in her eighties when I was fifteen.

Despite my mother’s oft-stated belief that ‘Education for girls is a waste of money; you’ll just go off and get married anyway’, along with her other favourite maxim, ‘No-one will marry you; you’re too big for your boots’, Ruby provided the funds for my private school education – something for which I am eternally grateful.

My mother’s two brothers also appeared to have a great degree of freedom, both sexually and financially, despite being married, and it did indeed appear that this was the way ‘the family’ operated. Men could do as they wanted; women were to maintain decorum, turn a blind eye to their men’s indiscretions, and produce and raise the children.

I was traumatised by my childhood. There was something deeply wrong with my mother, Peggy, and I have spent a lifetime trying to understand why she behaved as she did. World War One shaped her childhood, and World War Two her youth. Women stayed at home, making do with limited resources, while the men of their generation went to war, many never to return. At thirty, she was considered by the family to be an ‘old maid’, but went on to marry my father, Henry Winsall Hall, in 1950 and subsequently produced four sons, and then myself, a much-wanted girl, in 1961.
‘Harry’ was already set in his ways; he enjoyed spending his Saturdays at the racetrack. Although I fondly remember his understated but affectionate company during long days spent together on the sands and in the shallows of Brighton Beach, I always knew he was not a good husband, or provider, to my mother.


The home we lived in had been gifted to my mother by Clarice in 1940. If in a bind, Peggy could always access money from the family trust via her executor brother, or from Auntie Ruby, when caught short. This was fortuitous, as Harry would frequently give her only small amounts each week to run the household and would gamble the rest at the track. I recall loud, screaming arguments about money, (well, she would scream and he would silently walk away). He often brought decidedly merry groups of friends home late at night to sing and play around the piano and my mother would get out of bed, get dressed and cook for them all. He sometimes made my brothers come out in their pajamas to play ‘The Stripper’ on their brass instruments. As a little girl I learned all the great hits of the war years, and have to say I enjoyed the attention as I was passed from doting, drunken lap to lap, while he called me his ‘Little Pussy’.

I also vividly recall him coming home late one Saturday night with twenty-five thousand pounds he’d won. Peggy got all the children up and dressed so he could take us to the Hob Nob, a dimly-lit high-end restaurant in Church Street that boasted a jazz band, for a feast of lobster and prawns.
His was a world of partying and drinking. Harry had survived his war service in the Middle East and now just wanted to have a good time and forget. He had no time for Anzac Day or the RSL. His male friends drank Johnny Walker neat, while the women, unlike my mother, drank gin and tonic and smoked cigarettes. I found these people irresistibly glamorous and wanted to be like them.

When my father died of cancer, aged sixty-two, in 1974, I was thirteen. Harry had been ill for a while, and although I had sensed that something was wrong, I was not told he was dying until two weeks before the event. I was considered too young to be part of it all. Between his death and his funeral I was sent away to stay with relatives while the arrangements were made. In my own mind, and in that of at least one of my brothers, I had been banished from the bosom of the family. I was never to be fully reinstated.

School was a relief for me. Aware of Ruby’s largesse, I was determined to do well, and to have my own money, a career, something more than the unhappy suburban life of a mother, with its afternoon teas of tired women complaining about their husbands and discussing the more unpleasant aspects of childbirth. Academically, I left all my brothers for dead, much to my mother’s chagrin, but I struggled to carve out space and time for study as my mother piled on the housework in an attempt to put me in my place. That is, a ‘woman’s place’, as she understood it.

The disruption of World War Two meant that my parents were much older than those of most of my schoolmates. Being a girl, I was expected to take on the burden of running the house. By the time I was fifteen I was constantly cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, vacuuming, and polishing my mother’s prized silver and heavy Edwardian furniture. In short, I was exhausted.

My brothers were not expected to do any of this. They were boys and held an exalted position. Peggy prided herself on making sure that they could cook a meal and iron a shirt but as soon as they left school, all of this was routinely done for them – mostly by me. They enjoyed exerting power over me. One addressed me as ‘Bitch’ and ‘Hag’ for years. If I objected and answered back it would engender a fight, and I was the one who ended up slapped, hit, kicked, hysterical, crying all night. I would bolt out to school as soon as the sun came up. If my distress seemed too bad, my mother would slip me some valium.

At fifteen, I joined an evangelical wing of our local church, and became involved in running youth groups and Bible studies. The gentle, loving example of Jesus seemed far preferable to my chaotic home life, and I was encouraged to ‘turn the other cheek’ with my family. This, of course, enraged them more. I was now, according to Peggy, ‘holier than thou’, and ‘thought I was ‘better than them’’. It seemed that no matter how good I was, no matter how much I did around the house, no amount of quiet service would ever be enough. No-one ever thanked me for my labours. I felt hated and reviled by a mother who was threatened by my intelligence and sought to shut me – the real me, the person I was inside – down for good. Having my own opinions and thoughts was an affront, an insult to ‘all I’ve done for you’. The only bright spot was the sweet, softly-spoken boyfriend I’d met at church. He was also an affront to her, being the son of Greek migrants who worked in factories.
When I was seventeen, my mother screamed at me all the way home from the school speech night. I had wanted to surprise her, perhaps even make her proud of me, so I hadn’t told her I’d won Dux of the School in the Humanities. She said I’d kept it secret to embarrass her, that everyone else knew and I had deliberately made her look a fool. This turned into another valium night.

I wanted to go to university but she refused to support me. I was so tired I just had to get out of that house. With no support, I decided to apply for nursing training at the Alfred Hospital and the following year moved into the nurses’ quarters in the hospital grounds. At least then I was housed and got paid. Back then nurses learned on the job, did shift work, and were thrown in the deep end as novices. At eighteen I was working on a cancer ward, but there was no help to cope psychologically when long-term patients I’d come to know and care about died. On my days off, my mother was on the phone, demanding I come home to help her run the house.

I decided to get married. The church elders were pressuring my boyfriend and me; we had been dating for four years and they were worried we were ‘committing the sin of fornication’. I thought that, perhaps if we married, I could achieve some independence and finally break free.

By this stage the family trust had been dissolved and the proceeds distributed. Suddenly my mother had well over a million dollars in her bank account and she proceeded to spend it. Clothes, restaurants, overseas trips (first class all the way), became her new lifestyle. My wedding was set to be the event of the year. It was definitely one of the most stressful times of my life. On the day, Peggy insisted on being driven to the church in style (in the rented Mercedes) so that she could make a grand entrance. This made me, the bride, twenty minutes late for the service. She met me at the car, and hissed, ‘You did this on purpose!’

At the reception, my new husband’s family took up one table, and my mother had eleven tables of invited guests – not only family but also her many ‘friends’ and acquaintances – all ready to be impressed by her ostentatious display of opulence. Embarrassed by the amount of money she’d insisted on spending on the wedding, I took up my Auntie Joan’s (Peggy’s sister) offer of her old wedding dress. I recall looking around the reception room in dismay, wondering how I was going to manage to speak to every single one of these people, while Joan watched me like a hawk in case I ‘ruined the dress’. My mother, ensconced at the front table, cried openly for the entire reception. On the wedding night my new husband and I were so strung out that we fought bitterly.

The following year I left nursing training, got a state enrolled nurse certificate, and nd enrolled in a university writing and literature course. Finally I was meeting people like me, people who loved books and literature. But my health had deteriorated and I was diagnosed with depression and put on mood-altering drugs that made me groggily crash the car. I went into therapy, became convinced that everything in my life was wrong, and left my husband, and my studies. The marriage had lasted a mere eighteen months.

Six months later, at the age of twenty, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, an autoimmune disease of the joints, soft tissue and, in the most severe cases, internal organs. In severe pain, no longer able to nurse part time or walk enough to attend lectures, and with rapidly deforming joints in my hands and feet, I was hospitalised for the first time. The doctors told me that I would be in a wheelchair by twenty-six, and the social workers said it was time I ‘accepted reality’ and ‘stopped trying to live a normal life’. Peggy visited me in the ward and proceeded to talk to the other patients about me as though I wasn’t even there.

Before long, I was living a hand-to-mouth life on the disability pension, moving from share house to share house, and even squats, when I had expenses such as car repairs to meet. I sported a punk haircut and kept a dog to keep myself safe. By the time I was thirty I had cohabited with over two hundred people. After I turned thirty, I finally decided I’d had enough. I left Melbourne for good and moved to the New South Wales North Coast.

Eventually I met and married my husband, Kim, and we began to build a life together. We have been through many ups and downs with my health. He is officially my ‘carer’, and I am officially ‘disabled’, but we have managed to stay together and just recently reached the twenty-five year milestone. I feel proud to have overcome my early troubles enough to be capable of experiencing a more healthy relationship than was modelled for me in childhood. Our marriage is the first real stability I have had in my life.

I have a rare photo of me and my late mother, taken around 1993. The smile I wear is not pleasure at being with her, it’s a smile of freedom. I have escaped, regained some health and sanity, and returned with a wonderful man in tow and there is nothing she can do about it. That is why her lips are generally pursed like the proverbial cat’s bum.

She tells my partner that I have failed to give her grandchildren, that I have slept with half of Melbourne. He kicks me under the table before I explode with anger – which is what she wants. So she can then tell him I am mad. Truth is, she just never liked me very much.


My maternal grandparents, Clarice Jessie Daley and Ernest Alfred Lawrence, served in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. Clarice was a nurse with the 3rd Australian General Hospital on the nearby Greek Island of Lemnos, and Ernest served with the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade on the Gallipoli peninsula. The following account is taken from several sources put together for the family by my second cousin, Glenn Chapman.
Clarice was one of 130 Australian nurses , the so-called ‘Anzac Girls’, who served on Lemnos during the campaign. She was twenty-five years old when she joined the Australian Army Nursing Service on May 10th, 1915. Born in Box Hill, she completed her three years of nursing training at Melbourne Hospital. By the time of her enlistment, she and her parents had moved to Turriff, a house her father (John Robert Daley, Builder) had built on the corner of Ormond Esplanade and Beach Avenue, Elwood.
Clarice and the other eighty nurses of the 3rd Australian General Hospital sailed from Port Melbourne’s Princes Pier aboard the RMT Mooltan on May 18th, 1915. Initially sent to England, the coming Gallipoli campaign saw Clarice and the rest of the nurses diverted for service on Lemnos. They arrived on Lemnos on August 8th, being welcomed to the island by ‘skirl o’ the pipes’, played by the Hospital’s regimental piper, Archibald Monk.

Clarice’s time on Lemnos was, to put it mildly, challenging. The day after she arrived hundreds of wounded soldiers began arriving from the ill-fated August Offensive on the peninsula. This was despite the fact that much of the nurses essential medical equipment had failed to arrive with them. As the Matron, Grace Wilson, wrote in her diary at the time, ‘it was too awful for words’.

The Australian nurses would see the number of patients increase rapidly over coming weeks. Despite the numbers, Clarice and her fellow nurses not only coped with the dreadful conditions but managed to achieve amazing recovery rates.

After August, Clarice would see a change in the nature of the casualties arriving from Gallipoli. More and more, the soldiers arrived seriously ill as a result of the poor sanitation on the peninsula, suffering from dysentery and enteric fever. To this would be added pneumonia as the winter progressed.
It was during her time on Lemnos that Clarice miraculously became reacquainted with her former beau from Melbourne, Ernest Lawrence. The Daley family had disapproved of and discouraged their relationship, not wanting Clarice to marry a lowly commercial traveller they considered beneath her.

Ernest had been living in Elsternwick when he enlisted at the outbreak of the war, in August 1914.  His service record reveals that he was frequently in trouble during his service for going AWOL, drunkenness, and insubordination, and was twice demoted by his superiors. He suffered a shrapnel wound to his knee and ongoing dental issues (apparently from eating the rationed ‘hard tack’), and was on several occasions hospitalised – in Mudros, and then Malta.

On July 12th, 1915 he was transferred from Gallipoli to the nearby 2nd Australian Stationary Hospital on Lemnos. The timing of this ensured that he was not present during the worst of the battles; he was given the job of gravedigger for the fallen while he convalesced.

When Clarice and Ernest met again on Lemnos he was a Sergeant in the 1st Light Horse Brigade Headquarters. Their feelings for each other blossomed in the shadow of war and they decided to marry, there and then, on Lemnos.
And so took place the only marriage conducted amongst the Allied soldiers on Lemnos. Clarice Jessie and Ernest Alfred were married on October 21st, 1915 at the Church Camp, West Mudros. In attendance were a number of their comrades, including Matron Grace Wilson, and fellow nurses Beulah McMinn and Mary McIlroy. Army Chaplain Charles Winter officiated. Matron Wilson and Mary McIlroy signed the marriage certificate as witnesses, and this is now preserved in the Australian War Memorial.


According to Army regulations, Army nurses could not be married. Yet Clarice was not discharged immediately, continuing to serve until the hospitals were evacuated from Lemnos after the Gallipoli campaign had come to an end. She arrived back at Princes Pier in Port Melbourne on March 13th, 1916 and was discharged from the Army on July 31st, 1916.
Shortly after their wedding, Ernest was promoted to Warrant Officer – the highest enlisted rank in the Australian Army – and was appointed a Regimental Sergeant Major. WO Ernest Lawrence had earned a reputation as an eager and efficient soldier; however something happened at Gallipoli that not only changed his character, but also his personality and his life as a soldier. Between 1916 and 1918 he was ‘admitted to hospital for a number of injuries: periostitis (inflammation of the bone) in the left knee, lumbago (lower back pain), pyrexia (high fever) and finally malaria’ (Smith, Ethos).
In 1916, he was additionally treated in Cairo for fatigue, anxiety, headache and depressive mood, and eventually diagnosed with Neaurasthenia, or combat fatigue, with uncontrollable trembling and insomnia, and was sent to No.2 Convalescent Depot in Weymouth, England.
‘One cannot help but consider that his neurasthenia was in some way also responsible for his two ‘absent’ charges as well as his use of ‘insolent language to a superior officer’. As a result of this unacceptable behaviour, his rank was reduced’ (Smith, Ethos).
Ernest clearly took some time to recover from what we would now call Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and did not return to Alexandria and the Light Horse Unit, until January 1917.
After this, Ernest remained with the 4th Light Horse Brigade which, in October 1917, was ordered to make a mounted attack on the town of Beersheba ‘ … after a combined Infantry and Mounted Corps attack had stalled. The 4th Machine Gun Squadron was divided into sections and spread amongst the 4th and 12th Light Horse regiment for the assault. Trooper Ernest Lawrence charged the town of Beersheba on horseback, rifle slung across his back, with an eighteen inch bayonet in hand. … The pure audacity of the charge left the Turkish defenders completely stunned and the town was captured in little over an hour. … This action is widely regarded as the last successful charge by cavalry, or horse mounted infantry, in history’ (Chapman).
Ernest returned to Australia in November 1918 , just over three years after marrying Clarice on Lemnos, and the two commenced their life together. After the war, Clarice was awarded the British War and Victory Medals. Ernest died in 1933 and Clarice in 1944 and they are buried together in St Kilda Cemetery.

In 2015 the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee erected a memorial to the role of Lemnos in the Gallipoli campaign at Foote Street reserve in Albert Park. The statue, designed by Peter Corlett OAM, was unveiled on 8th August 2015, and was dedicated to Anzac nurses and soldiers who served and who are buried on Lemnos in 1915. The information panel for this memorial cites Clarice and Ernest’s story.

The Committee also visited their gravesite to lay a wreath, along with several members of the Daley-Lawrence family, and the Friends of St Kilda Cemetery was asked to allow the Anzac ‘Rising Sun’ badge to be added to the grave and for it to be included in the Guide to the Cemetery produced by the Cemetery Trust as a ‘significant war grave’. (Claven)


It’s worth noting that well-bred young ladies from this period were expected to marry well and, while waiting for this eventuality, had little to choose from in the way of careers – there was nursing, teaching or governessing. Any other kind of work would have been considered ‘beneath them’.
It’s clear that Clarice and Ernest knew each other prior to the war and that Clarice had been forbidden to marry him by her father. The Daley family often spent time at their residence in Bendigo, (also named ‘Turriff’, like the Elwood house), and at one time Ernest was based in the town of Horsham. So, it is quite likely they first met in the Goldfields region. Given that Ernest’s mother, Sophia, was the ninth and youngest child of ex-convicts, this was probably a class-based decision.
It’s very unlikely that Clarice’s father would have approved of her taking off to nurse Australian soldiers overseas but she clearly had a sense of adventure and, I suspect, a strong desire to escape the strictures of her life in Melbourne.
That Ernest and Clarice were reunited on Lemnos in the midst of the Gallipoli campaign seems a stroke of fate and it’s not surprising that they took the opportunity to marry while on active service. Others, however, were just as judgemental as Clarice’s family. Sister Evelyn Davies wrote to her mother that Ernest was ‘a real waster and was always getting into trouble for drinking. He sings most beautifully and is fine looking, but what is the good of that … when he is such a rotter? ‘ Sister Davies then went on to criticise Ernest for borrowing the money to buy Clarice a cheap wedding ring, and concluded ‘Yet she believes in him’ (Hedditch, p.125).
As recently as 2011, Hedditch described this marriage as ‘ill-fated’, while historian Susanna de Vries wrote in 2013 that ‘Sister Daley’s marriage did not turn out well. Sergeant Lawrence had an alcohol problem, was demoted in rank and both he and his wife were sent back to Australia and nothing more was heard from them’ (DeVries p.174). (Ms de Vries has since very kindly altered this passage in the second edition of her book following information provided by me that this account was untrue and that the marriage did, in fact, endure.)
It is clear that Clarice paid a high personal price for her decision. Her father rejected her upon her return to Melbourne and removed her from his will. My mother, their firstborn child Peggy, recalled collecting driftwood off St Kilda beach to fuel their fire for warmth, and said her grandmother surreptitiously cooked a second Sunday roast each week and had it sent to the Lawrence family without her husband’s knowledge. But Clarice and Ernest made a good life together, running a second-hand furniture business in Barkly Street, St Kilda, and having four children: Peggy in 1919, followed by Jack, Robert and Joan.
There’s little doubt that Ernest suffered from what we now know as PTSD, as well as his physical injuries, and that he, like so many Diggers, self-medicated with alcohol. It’s notable that even after Ernest’s early death in 1933 Clarice continued to take in and care for many of the homeless, traumatised Diggers that had been reduced to living on Melbourne’s streets, feeding them and ‘drying them out’. Her compassion was born of her firsthand experience of what these men had been through overseas, something the general populace did not understand, as well as her strong religious faith and desire to be of service to others.
After Ernest’s death in 1933 Clarice’s brother, Claude managed to convince their father to reinstate her into the family. She only outlived Ernest by another eleven years. She continued to nurse, never remarried, and was buried with Ernest in St Kilda cemetery.

With the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign being recognised in Australia, Turkey, and Greece, much has been said and written about all this in recent years. The new commemorative statue is a beautiful and poignant tribute, but somehow this national glorification of the disaster that Gallipoli actually was, leaves me feeling deeply unsettled. Australian soldiers and nurses were treated very poorly by the British officer class, and not much better by the Australian public on their return home. Shell Shock was seen as a sign of personal weakness and was not something any self-respecting returned soldier would have admitted to.
Given the actual facts of this dreadful battle, the fallout of the trauma that my grandparents endured in the war’s aftermath leaves me with the general feeling that the current recognition of the suffering and sacrifice of Gallipoli is all too little, too late, and with lashings of quite inappropriate pomp and ceremony. That Gallipoli, and the unnecessary slaughter of a generation of our young men it engendered, is considered by so many to be a ‘nation building’ event we should all be proud of, deeply disturbs me.
De Vries’ wrote of ‘the poor treatment of nurses and soldiers under the British. Flawed evacuation plans meant wounded Australians routinely were left on the beach at Anzac Cove for hours or even days … (Nurses) wrote with disgust of the wounded Anzacs who would have survived had the British provided more hospital ships, warm clothes and medical care. … Matron Grace Wilson (and her nurses were) shocked at the sight of wounded Australian soldiers lying on the rocky ground, exposed to the summer heat. With no medical supplies, tents, or even beds, Wilson’s nurses … used their aprons as bandages, ransacked their bags for anything that would serve as a drinking vessel and sent messages to surrounding hospitals pleading for food, water, and tents. As their British commanding officers dined on a luxury yacht, Wilson … overwhelmed by Anzac casualties from the Nek, Lone Pine and Gallipoli, … slept on the bare earth at night’(Dempster).
Why, then, do we celebrate this disgraceful, unnecessary mass destruction of hundreds of young Australian lives on foreign battlegrounds as battles that made us a Nation? It seems to me, these battles, and the circumstances that led to them, should have made us a republic, all those years ago. But for some reason our loyalty to Britain has remained staunch for another century.
In December 2010, my mother’s sister, the then-elderly Joan ‘spoke highly of her mother Clarice, as if it were only yesterday. She described her as a vivacious and strong-willed woman who only ever loved one man. So much so that she married him on the other side of the world to escape the disapproving attitudes of her family. … Clarice’s family were very displeased and temporarily wrote her out of the family will and barred her from the family home. … By the time Ernest returned in 1919, Clarice had rekindled her relationship with her family. Ernest continued to struggle with his shell shock and adopted a life of heavy drinking and withdrawn behaviour. A quality his children remember vividly. Their children knew little of their father and his wartime experiences’ (Smith, Ethos).

We know that Clarice remained deeply religious. Peggy claimed she frequently burned incense and read her Bible. Some years ago I found a hand written note of Clarice’s inside a family Bible, of two verses from Hymn 553.
‘Make use of me, my God,
Let me not be forgot
A broken vessel cast aside
One whom thou needest not.

All things do serve thee here
All creatures great and small.
Make use of me, of me my God
The weakest of them all.’

Is trauma genetic, passed on in the DNA to offpring from bodies and minds irrevocably changed by the horrors they have witnessed? Certainly more recent advances in psychology and psychiatry and studies into intergenerational trauma would suggest so, and the evidence points to trauma being held in the body – and perhaps the genes – every bit as much as in the mind.
Psychologist Bessell van der Kolk explores this in his 2014 best-selling book, ‘The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma’, a work Norman Doidge, the expert on neuroplasticity and author of ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’ described as ‘the most important series of breakthroughs in mental health in the last thirty years’. A pioneer in trauma research and treatment, van der Kolk maintains that talking and drug therapies are not enough to heal the effects of trauma, and that an integrated approach utilising modalities such as breathwork, bodywork, yoga and mindfulness may prove more effective. I have certainly found this to be so.
Love may have been at the heart of Clarice and Ernest’s marriage, but what happened to their daughters, Peggy and Joan? They turned into archetypal ‘wicked witches’ who tormented and traumatised their daughters into submission in an effort to present a false picture to the world of happiness and family solidarity. How does one reconcile the ‘saintliness’ and self-sacrifice of a Clarice with the toxic behaviour of her offspring, whose malignant narcissism caused their daughters unrelenting stress?
I have wondered whether the alcoholic and shell-shocked diggers Clarice brought home to feed and ‘dry out’ in the post war years may have sexually interfered with her two daughters. They were just thirteen and six when their father died, and this may be the source of the narcissism and hyper sexuality that they both displayed. Or perhaps it was inborn, passed down from a powerful grandfather who lived a double life of sexual self-gratification while capitalising on his wife’s inherited wealth. He was a patriarch whose sons pursued sexual freedom while his daughters were afforded only one of two possible roles – ‘virginal’, like Ruby, (who remained unmarried), or ‘fallen’ like his eldest daughter Clarice, where the cost of expressing independence and an adult sexuality was to be shunned and disinherited.
I have spent many years in therapy, attempting to unpack the dynamics of my mother’s behaviour – behaviour that exhibited all the hallmarks of what some would term Narcissistic Personality Disorder and others, straight-out Psychopathy (Gillespie). For a long time I felt I had failed her. She wanted a daughter, but that daughter was required to be a ‘mini Me’, not a discrete individual. I do have early memories of childhood mother-daughter outings that outwardly appeared to demonstrate close relationship. Every month, she would take me on the Sandringham line train into Melbourne to shop, get a haircut and see a movie, but in retrospect even this was a chimera. In my pretty dress from Georges and my uncomfortable new patent leather shoes, I would trail behind her as she shopped. I certainly looked the part of adored little daughter, but painful blisters on my exhausted six year old feet as she forced me to just keep walking throughout a long day in town belies this.
Van der Kolk writes,
‘Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still going on – unchanged and immutable – as every new encounter or event is contaminated by the past.’
‘After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system. The survivor’s energy now becomes focussed on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their lives. These attempts to maintain control over unbearable physiological reactions can result in a whole range of physical symptoms, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other autoimmune diseases. This explains why it is critical for trauma treatment to engage the entire organism, body, mind, and brain.’ (p.53, my italics).
I believe my early years of constantly being in hyper vigilant ‘fight or flight’ mode, creating overly prolific cortisol production, are the root cause of my autoimmune Rheumatoid Disease, an illness whose legacy has been a lifetime of chronic pain and grinding poverty.
My mother offered little support, either emotional or financial, and, as I cut the cord and ventured out into the world without her blessing, I had no skills with which to cope. I did not know how to pay a bill, open a bank account, or even ride a bicycle. My role was to marry well and have all that taken care of by a husband (despite the historically poor treatment of women by the Daley husbands of yore).
The rot really set in after my father’s death, as adolescence hit. I was maturing and becoming a person in my own right, and this was something she just couldn’t abide.
She tried, using physical and emotional violence and a harsh schedule of hard work, to beat this individuality out of me before it properly took root, leaving me floundering towards adulthood with a half-formed sense of self and an ailing body, still inextricably trapped in the rigid expectations of a mercurial mother incapable of loving her own child.I’d tried to be what she wanted me to be. But my burgeoning self, determined to emerge whole and independent, rebelled. I just couldn’t be that kind of girl.
As Clarice’s granddaughter, I am immensely proud of her courage and selflessness during her service in the most horrific circumstances, and of her continuing care for traumatised and neglected Australian servicemen upon her return, all the while while raising four children of her own.
The Lemnos nurses achieved remarkable results, providing care and comfort to the wounded under horrendous conditions with very little support from higher authorities, many of whom questioned their right to even be there. It’s taken one hundred years for their efforts to be publicly recognised. The statue in the newly-named Lemnos Square in Albert Park is a fitting tribute that I hope will remind future generations of the courage, hard work and service of these extraordinary Australian women, and of the terrible, and intergenerational, costs of war – costs that I, a descendant, carry in my body over a century later.
Chapman, Glenn, ‘A Nurse and Digger on Lemnos’ and ‘Service History: Ernest Alfred Lawrence – 1st AIF’ (Family Archives)
Claven, Jim, Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee Inc, https://lemnosgallipolicc.blogspot/2014/11/lemnos-heroes-nurse-clarice-daley-and.html

Dempster, Sarah, Review of Susanna de Vries’ book (listed below), The Weekend Australian Review, April 0-21, 2013, p.24
de Vries, Susanna, ‘Australian Heroines of World War One: Gallipoli, Lemnos and the Western Front’, Pirgos Press, Brisbane, 2013
Gillespie, David, ‘Taming Toxic People’, Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 2017
Hedditch, Katrina, ‘Lemnos 1915: A Nursing Odyssey to Gallipoli’, Press Here, Ocean Grove, 2011
Smith, Jodie, ‘Love in wartime’, Remembrance Magazine, Volume 1, No. 1, April 2011, Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, pp 20-21
Smith, Jodie, ‘Love in War Time’, Ethos Vol.19, No.4, 2011, pp 24-25
Van der Kolk, Bessell, ‘The Body Keeps the Score’, Penguin, UK, 2015
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