For Louise Evans, telling the story of Thelma Healy’s enduring journey to find closure following the death of her first-born son in battle was about more than documenting the profound heartbreak of losing a loved one to war.
It was recognition of the extraordinary efforts of a grieving mother who ultimately paved the way for better treatment for those devastated by such a loss.
Vincent Healy, the eldest of 10 siblings, was the apple of Thelma’s eye during his deprived upbringing in Sandgate near Brisbane.
The golden-hair child was also her salvation from an unhappy marriage.
“He grew up to be the father the other nine kids never had,” Ms Evans, whose book Passage to Pusan tells Thelma’s story, told AAP.
“He was kind and generous and everyone looked up to him.”
Tragically, Vincent lost his life in the Korean War and his death in uncertain circumstances meant there was no body, no funeral and none of his belongings were sent home.
“It completely destroyed Thelma almost to the point of her losing the will to live,” Ms Evans said.
Crippled by grief, she vowed to travel to Korea and find out what happened to Vincent and find his grave, thus beginning a 10-year odyssey.
After overcoming an army that was initially reluctant to help her, she scrimped and saved up enough money to buy a C-class ticket on a cruise-liner to undertake the two-month, 15,000 kilometre journey north through the Pacific Ocean.
Ms Evans, a journalist, said it was Thelma’s undying will to find peace within herself that prompted her to tell her story.
“Most families buckled down and got on with it,” she said.
“The difference is that Thelma said, ‘I’m not going to live in doubt’.”
Her journey wasn’t purely for her own reasons, Ms Evans believes, but rather for the many other women she knew who suffered similar loss, as well as the thousands of families in Australia who sent their children off to war and never saw them come home.
Ms Evans believes her extraordinary bravery and determination blazed a trail for greater understanding of the experiences of families of war dead.
She is one of many Australians people should celebrate during Anzac Day on Monday, Ms Evans said.
Tony Ralph, chair of Legacy Australia, said stories like Thelma’s showed the courage of families who were affected by war and the importance of Anzac Day to them.
“It’s one of the times where you don’t have to explain yourself,” he said.
“You are with a group of other people who have suffered in the same way you have.
“Their loved ones are now part of the Gallipoli experience and tradition.”