Great War sto­ries touched a nerve

Rotorua Daily Post - - Nation - Scott Yeo­man

In all the let­ters and di­ary en­tries I read over the past few weeks, one para­graph stood out. It was writ­ten by a Kiwi sol­dier who left for war at the age of 28, just two years older than I am now. “The in­evitable day.

“I awoke with a numb pain and sick­ness at heart.

“Packed up in the morn­ing and then the wrench of part­ing.”

It was Jim Keam’s last day at home in Tau­ranga.

He was leav­ing be­hind his fam­ily and fi­ancee and was head­ing to a place where the odds of sur­vival were grim.

He knew that.

In his writ­ing, you can feel the nerves, the fear and tor­ment, and the knot which sits in your stom­ach when you face some­thing that ter­ri­fies you.

This was dread in its most cruel form.

To read first-hand ac­counts of World War I in the words of men like Jim Keam breaks your heart and in­vokes waves of dis­may and dis­be­lief.

Wher­ever pos­si­ble, I let the sol­diers speak for them­selves for that rea­son.

What a waste the Great War was, more than one per­son said to me as I was re­search­ing and writ­ing th­ese Ar­mistice Day fea­tures.

What a waste, in­deed.

A waste of life.

Of love.

Of youth.

"I en­cour­age you to read fur­ther and to search for your fam­ily con­nec­tion or a lo­cal link; for no other rea­son than to learn from our past mis­takes and re­mem­ber those who served and sac­ri­ficed their lives. "

Jim didn’t make it home; he died in Bel­gium less than 12 months af­ter leav­ing.

You can read his story on page 9 of to­day’s pa­per.

It sits along­side sto­ries of other lo­cal men who also left be­hind ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one to serve their coun­try.

Their fam­ily mem­bers, for whom the heartache is still real, shared trea­sured let­ters, pho­tos and per­sonal anec­dotes with me.

For that, I am very grate­ful and hon­oured.

I am also thank­ful for all of the help I re­ceived from Tau­ranga City and Ro­torua Lakes coun­cils, their li­brary teams and in par­tic­u­lar, Tau­ranga Cul­tural Her­itage Co­or­di­na­tor Fiona Kean.

There are so many tragic sto­ries as­so­ci­ated with World War I and to­day, we have cov­ered but a few of them.

I en­cour­age you to read fur­ther and to search for your fam­ily con­nec­tion or a lo­cal link; for no other rea­son than to learn from our past mis­takes and re­mem­ber those who served and sac­ri­ficed their lives.

As for that para­graph in Jim Keam’s di­ary, I do not know why it stayed with me.

It wasn’t the only sad line I read, or the most chill­ing.

But it was vivid and in some small way, re­lat­able.

Of course, I do not know what he was feel­ing like that day.

I hope I never will.

But we have all ex­pe­ri­enced dread and fear and long­ing.

One hun­dred years on from the end of that hor­rific war, those most ba­sic of hu­man emo­tions still tor­ture us.

The sto­ries of Jim Keam, and all of the oth­ers who fought on for­eign fields, pro­vide some per­spec­tive.

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