A soldier who fell into hell
Acentury ago, 843 New Zealand soldiers died in an ill-planned push to capture Passchendaele. Letters home from one of those soldiers describing an attack days earlier offer a poignant insight into the effect of the war on young men who signed up to see the world.
‘‘Seconds seemed like hours.’’ Sydney Carl Jordan wrote. ‘‘At last there was the rattle of machine guns and the roar of guns big and small. Then the ground shook and the sky was ablaze.’’
‘‘Soon we were out of the trenches close to the curtain of fire, smoke and flying steel we followed.’’
Jordan survived this early push into Passchendaele, covering his mates with Lewis gun fire until the order to withdraw was given. While physically fine, the experience left him shellshocked. As he convalesced, the tone of his letters home changed.
Jordan signed up ‘‘to see the world’’ despite the objections of his father, the Rev Canon Charles Jordan.
The Tauranga youngster took to soldiering, serving during the battles of the Somme and at Verdun, and when on leave, making the most of the chance to see the sights such as the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey.
But his last letters would reveal his positive spirit was a veneer for a dark truth dawning on the soldier.
‘‘I have been a soldier for two years now,’’ he wrote.
‘‘I am an old soldier.’’
He sent a macabre list home about his friends being picked off. He envied the wounded, escaping the front.
A letter to his father on September 26, weeks before his death, showed how the war had finally broken his spirit.
‘‘I don’t see what we are fighting for,’’ he wrote. ‘‘They say freedom but we are only being made bigger slaves everyday to say nothing of the poor English Tommy who is treated a thousand times worse than a Hun prisoner. It is high time the whole murderous affair was over.’’
Then, a rare glimpse behind the curtain.
‘‘We have got to try and believe we are winning and look cheerful but it is a hard job to do that now. Just think it is a year ago since I was in this place last and it was here I spent my last birthday. I hope I can hang out here until my next.’’
His marching orders arrived leaving him just time to write a quick, final note to his mother on October 10, 1917.
‘‘Just a short note before I go up the line in the morning,’’ he wrote.
‘‘I am still fit and well and feeling all the better after the spell down here. According to the papers our boys are in the thick of it and carried everything before them. In a way, I am not sorry I missed it.
‘‘I will close with best love and Xmas wishes from your son.’’
By the time she received the letter Jordan and 842 other New Zealand soldiers were dead.