Centering around a murder-suicide that occurred in Collie in 1929, After The War -Returned Soldiers and the Mental and Physical Scars of World War I written by academic, historian and author Leigh Straw delves into the mental and physical scars left on soldiers once they return from war.
The non-fiction book, published in August this year, centres around Collie-based returned soldier Andrew Straw and the events that led the married father of four to murdering his neighbour, and turning the gun on himself.
Author Leigh Straw, who has taught war history for a number of years, said it was only after she had stumbled on the newspaper clipping that reported the murder-suicide in 1929, that she realised there was a family connection.
“I kind of stumbled across the story from Collie in 1929. I printed it off at the state library and I saw it was Collie and I thought ‘ok my husbands family are from Collie so I will just print it off because it sounds like an interesting story’,” she said.
“Then I took the clipping home, and my mother-in-law was visiting and we read the story and there was that moment of recognition of looking at the murderer and realising his name was Andrew Straw so it kind of opened up a family story that we knew nothing about and as it turns out Andrew is my husbands great-great uncle.
“So it’s a direct connection to that horrible Collie story that threw me in to wanting to know more about him but then from that realising I wanted to know more myself about the mental and physical difficulties that were faced by the men who came back from the war.”
Andrew Straw was from the Straw family who had moved to Collie in the late nineteenth early twentieth century from a mining town in New South Wales. Andrew worked at the Bullfinch mine as a teenager and when the war broke out Andrew and some friends decided they would sign up to fight.
“He went off to fight in the war in 1916 and fought on the Western front and was hospitalised on a number of occasions. Then came back from the war and married and had four children,” author Leigh Straw said.
“Somehow in 1929 he became fixated on his neighbour, she was a widow with children herself and he was still married with kids and something seemed to snap from what I’ve heard from family and what others have told.”
“The neighbour, Muriel Pope, went to the movies one night with a gentleman from town and Andy (Andrew Straw) followed them from the cinema and he shot her dead and shot himself in the head and died two days later.”
Straw said from reading about the incident she was interested to find out more about the mental and physical scars that returning servicemen and women are left with. “It was a pretty horrific story for us to hear, and then it opened the door in terms of wanting to know what had led him to that point.
“How is it that you've got someone who is well liked in that town who then decides to kill a woman, it’s just pretty horrific,” she said. “It opened up a lot of different stories about the realities that people do have- they do have a mental breakdown after war, that leads them to take their lives or take the lives of others.”
Straw said the book took her three years to write, and she visited Collie frequently to help with research.
“We were down there (Collie) a fair bit because first of all we wanted to find out where Andrew had been buried, we knew he was in the cemetery but there was no headstone, but then we found the victim Muriel Pope,” she said.
During the research and writing process, Straw said she used a variety of resources.
“Initially it was a lot of newspaper reports. I did use the Collie Mail and various other newspapers that ran with the story because it was so immediate in Collie so those newspapers were fresh on the scene,” she said.
“From the newspaper stories it developed into archival records and a lot of army service records and repatriation files and medical records and anything that was available that related to men that had come back needing mental or physical treatment after the war.”
The book is available from UWA Publishing- uwap.uwa.edu.au.
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