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Your KS #38: Katharine and Hugo’s engagement, 100 years ago this month

The Herald, 10 December 1918, 3.

This month, November 2018, the world will be marking the centenary of the end of World War One. The month the worst war in history ended was also personally significant for Katharine Susannah Prichard—it was when she became engaged to Hugo Throssell.

It was a whirlwind courtship of just weeks. Hugo had visited her in Melbourne back in 1916, but she had been involved with another man then. By 1918, she was single and Hugo had decided he wanted to marry her. Stationed in Egypt with the Australian Imperial Force, Hugo had been unwell all that year, after suffering further battle injuries and then a severe tapeworm infestation. He was sent back to Australia in September to recover. Cabling her messages from every port, he arrived in Melbourne on 17 October. Katharine had reached her mid-thirties resolutely unmarried, determined to put her literary career first. But everything was changing around her; she’d lost her brother in the war, as Hugo had too, and been devastated when her lover spurned her to marry someone else. Hugo was the sort of strong, outdoorsy man she was attracted to and, as a Victoria Cross winner, he was a hero. However, she told him she wouldn’t marry him unless he shared her radical political beliefs. She had turned strongly against the war and the capitalist system she believed had caused it. Inspired by the Russian Revolution in 1917, she’d been reading Karl Marx and was ready to dedicate herself to changing the world. Remarkably, Hugo—the son of a conservative politician—told her she’d convinced him. He’d seen horrific things in the war and was open to revolutionary thinking. Others were willing to change religious denomination to marry the person they loved; perhaps he also saw it in a similar vein. They agreed they could only marry when the war ended; days later, the surrender of Germany was announced and Katharine and Hugo could begin preparations in earnest.

On 4 December 1918, Katharine’s thirty-fifth birthday, she and Hugo announced their engagement. “Anzac Crusader to Marry Australian Novelist”, declared one newspaper headline; it was a celebrity match that had Australians talking at the end of a brutal and exhausting war.

- More on Katharine at Nathan’s blog at

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