DIANNE Dempsey’s newest novel shines a light on the often-overlooked efforts of Vietnam War veterans’ wives and the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The book, ‘When He Came Home: The Impact of War on Partners and Children of Veterans’, features the real stories of many women from across Australia.
Dianne explores how PTSD affected not just veterans, but their wives and families, and recognises the extraordinary effort their partners went to support them.
A book launch was held at Phillip Island’s National Vietnam Veterans Museum on Friday, August 20, fortunately just before COVID restrictions were re-imposed regionally the following day.
Dianne, who is also a long-time journalist and book reviewer, spoke with the Sentinel-Times about what inspired her to write the novel.
“The book is what I consider a bit of a hidden history,” she said.
“I came across this story of the wives who are married to Vietnam veterans, which I thought was a very big story, in that there were many people who suffered from the Vietnam War, apart from the veterans themselves.
“When they came home, many of them were affected by PTSD.
“That had a big impact on their families, and it was the wives who tried to help their husbands and protect their children from the fallout.”
Dianne said even as PTSD was officially recognised in the 1980s, its impact continued to be felt for many decades.
“What my book does is, firstly, look at PTSD and how it impacts on a family, it looks at the wives and the wonderful job they did in helping their husbands and children,” she said.
“They did this by connecting with each other and formed support groups; no one was helping them – they had to do it themselves.
“That’s the essence of the book.”
Initially, Dianne was seeking to interview wives of World War Two veterans.
“I take the book up to the point where we now have a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.
“The people who were responsible for this Royal Commission were women whose sons committed suicide.
“They lobbied very hard for a Royal Commission, and they didn’t want anyone else to lose their boys to war in this way.”
As Dianne resides in Bendigo, this was where the story began.
“It was Vietnam Veterans Day one year and I was looking at PTSD and talking to veterans,” she said.
“They mentioned the fact that their wives deserve medals because of what they did to help them.
“And I thought, ‘there’s a story here’.
“I started with veterans in Bendigo, and they put me onto their network of veterans around Australia.”
Dianne would eventually interview almost 30 women. Her novel took several years to complete.
“I think it should also appeal to a general readership, given that it’s part of our history, and a fascinating and very much feminist part of our history,” she said.
“It’s a role that women played that was very, very significant and haven’t got a lot of acknowledgement for.”
To learn more about Dianne and to order a copy of her book, visit diannedempsey.com.au.