My book at last out in the world as we open up.

Dianne Dempsey

When He Came Home, the book I have been working on for the past couple of years was released in August and while I was very pleased to see it in print, COVID meant that several book events and promotions had to be postponed. Things however are starting to warm up and I’m looking forward to be able to speak to real people in real life about the book and its genesis. Zoom just doesn’t cut it.

It was when I was interviewing Vietnam Veterans about the impact of PTSD on their lives for a local publication that one of the veterans told me he didn’t talk to his wife for six months. That’s pretty rough. “She’s a saint,” he told me. “I don’t know how she put up with me. But I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her.” As I continued my research, it quickly became evident that PTSD puts a huge strain on a marriage as well as the children of that marriage.    

When the Vietnam veterans returned home to Australia, neither the veterans nor their partners were aware of the atrocious psychological harm with which they had been afflicted. Post-traumatic stress disorder had not yet been recognised and as the men fell victim to terrible moods and illnesses, they capitulated to their pain and isolated themselves and their families.

When I interviewed the wives the stories of the years of loneliness and struggle became common: walking on eggshells; putting the children to bed early if he was in a bad mood; the apparent loss of a once loving husband. Many wives became depressed themselves, but most of them stayed within the marriage because that was what you did back then and there was the other salient factor – they loved him and one day he could get better. With great courage and without recognition, veterans’ wives held their families together in the face of government and community indifference and did so for decades. When He Came Home is a belated recognition of these women.

Apart from looking at the historical context of how PTSD affects veterans and subsequently their families, I also researched the impact of war on veterans who participate in contemporary con­flicts. Such is the high rate of suicide that a royal commission into this matter was finally established earlier this year. Much of the impetus for the royal commission came from the lobbying of women like Julie-Ann Finney who lost her son David to suicide after discharge from the Navy in 2019.

It’s to be hoped that the royal commission will in some way heighten awareness and provide solutions to this often-hidden impact of war: the devastation inflicted on families every time a traumatised soldier returns home.

When He Came Home: the impact of war on partners and children of veterans. (Available Dymocks (Bendigo) and online. Scholarly