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.

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