Solace in demon drink
SUMMER HOLIDAY READING
SHELLSHOCK and depression saw Cyril Roy Samers return from World War One a different young man to the one who had left Bridgewater-on-Loddon in 1914.
The young clerk, son of Loddon Bridge Hotel publicans John and Henrietta Samers, was just 21 with fair hair and grey eyes, according to the description on his enlistment papers.
He had spent two years boarding at St Patrick’s College Ballarat where he came second in his commercial class, made the senior football team in 1910 and was a keen debater.
Cyril was among the first to enlist after war was declared, travelling from Bendigo to Footscray to complete his papers before joining the 7th Battalion where he would be a driver for the battalion in Egypt, Turkey and later France.
Private Samers had embarked at Melbourne aboard HMAT Hororata on October 19 1914 and in a letter in The Bendigo Advertiser on Novem-
ber 13, wrote that there were more than 2300 people on board the Hororata and that he was in splendid health.
From August 1915 he was admitted to hospitals several times variously for general weakness, a flesh wound to the thigh and heart disorders.
After each episode he was discharged back to duty.
The New Year brought promotion to lance corporal and a transfer to France where again there were numerous stints in hospitals near the front and in England over the next 12 months.
However, Cyril was selected for officer training in the October of that year – a course he was never to complete when once more he was taken to hospital still suffering the effects of neurasthenia, or shell shock.
By March 1918, Cyril was on his way back to Australia for discharge.
That same promise displayed at St Patrick’s College as a student and keen footballer had been recognised by the Army - the mental trauma of battle too much to live up to those expectations.
He married Rose Evelyn Dwyer in Bendigo’s Sacred Heart Cathedral in 1924. They had a son William James two years later.
Cyril and Rose separated and Rose raised young Bill on her own while battling tuberculosis until her early death in 1939.
Cyril meanwhile found solace in the “demon drink” when bouts of depression came back to haunt him.
Yet, according to granddaughter Jane Samers Bretherton, he had reconnected with Bill in the final years of his life before his death in 1958 in Melbourne.
“My dad was a kind and positive person and he would talk fondly about my grandfather,” Jane says.
“It was dad who started the family history search and got me interested. Because Cyril and Rose had separated many years before, we didn’t know anything about what happened to him in the war.
“We were astonished to learn from his war record through the National Archives that he had been part of the Gallipoli campaign.
“Dad would talk about Cyril’s battles with alcohol, quoting him as saying on more than one occasion while ‘on the wagon’: ‘I hate the drink and I hate the buggars who drink it!’
“My grandfather was a broken man after the war. He had been discharged medically unfit with neurasthenia, which we now call post-traumatic stress disorder and the family has little recollection of him talking about the war … perhaps he did with those who had also served.”
Other Samers family members of the same generation also served in World War One - Cyril’s cousin the 23-year-old Leo, a dental mechanic, enlisted at Fremantle in the 51st Battalion and 22 year-old cousin Vincent, born in Shepparton, enlisted in Melbourne in the 1st ANZAC Cyclists. Both returned to Australia wounded.
“We must respectfully pass on the stories of our family’s sacrifices while stressing the futility of all war,” Jane says.
“An important part of remembering these tragic events in our family and collective social histories is the need to work toward peace in our daily lives.
“I am very mindful and grateful that my dad’s dad survived World War One and my mum’s dad later survived serving in World War Two.
“There is also grief for the tragic loss of life due to war in our family history.
“ANZAC Day has always been a solemn occasion to take time out to remember them.“