The prevailing scent greets as I lift my mug for the all-important first sip, a routine well-rehearsed. Within these walls, a haven of safety ensues. Warm coffee, favourite chair, all is well. Nonchalantly, I recognise the signifying thud of today’s news drawing me from my slumber to greet the outside World.
The paper, spread-eagled across the threshold, catches my attention. Time ceases, a moment and infinity, become one. I open my eyes, unaware I had instinctively closed out the truth splayed before me….. “New Zealand to send non-combat training troop to Iraq” (Key, 2015). The offending newspaper forsaken, I retraced my steps until once again safeguarded.
16 October 1914
This day was the epitome of sorrow. My heavy heart is separated by loss. I shall miss him every day he is away on his adventure to far lands, to join this Great War.
This day an onerous task commences – to raise our child, the light of our eyes, our David, alone.
I have spoken at great length to our David. Though his infant ears are too inexperienced to comprehend, I have shared with him the photographs from today’s farewell.
Daddy standing tall and proud, his uniform a starched protector of fragile life. Grandma and I, our veils transparent screens to our feelings within.
David laughed and pointed “Dada”, in his baby voice. Oh to have no fear, no worry, no understanding of the adventures, the unknown, my love is embarking upon.
I await his return with expectant joy…….
I had always known this time would come. My only son, James, had always made his intentions clear. “I’m going to fight in the army when I grow up”, he’d stated, time and time again. His whole being a resurrection of his namesake. And, so it had become, the beginning of the end.
15 November 1914
Today dear David and I have received a post card from Dada. Great excitement and gaiety! My Love has arrived in the country of Australia safe and sound! They now prepare to travel to Egypt. My Love’s war has begun. He is excited, but I am not.
He spoke of the eager camaraderie of soldiers, anticipating adventure. Many of the thirty officers aboard joined them on the steel top decks each evening to partake in card games and merriments. David loved the photograph of the “b-b-boat”, the Star of India, Dada enclosed.
Apparently the heat was of an intenseness my love had never before experienced. “Hotter than the year Fred Martin’s hay barn burnt down when he packed damp bales in like weetbix in a box”. The men spent many a night encamped on the top steel decks (Waite, 1919), and slept, surrounded by lines of horse boxes, rather than in ovens below.
As the weeks lead towards James’ departure, I am reminded repeatedly that people make decisions for others’ lives, “Get some guts and join the right side”, John Key’s incitements are splashed across newspapers as he sends NZ troops to Iraq for Isis fight (Davison, Young et al, 2015), unintentionally compelling society’s next generation to believe equivocally, dulce et decorum est (Owen, 1918). Do I tell him? About this truth, this truth about war? Should I stop him? Could I stop him? My life is a ferris wheel of decisions I cannot make.
Harsh rain lashes at poignant faces, already wet. Storm clouds frown disappointment of decisions made. Starched uniforms protect boys in men’s clothing, still held within their mothers’ reach. Farewell day hosts an emotional kaleidoscope of unfounded fear, screened pride, valiant love, and anticipated excitement.
Beneath my grey, battered umbrella, I shelter.
26 April 1915
My trust in this country, this war, diminishes with each passing day. Around me I see evidence of a country desperate to win, but at what cost? This war is a hung trial.
If only humankind’s ability to solve issues had progressed to the point that life was not fought with life, where peaceful means could be used to solve issues, where people, towns, countries, respected each other’s differences, where peace and freedom reigned. Instead, our government encourages our men to ‘die for their country’…and naive ears listen.
I have not heard from my love. It is difficult to breathe.
My safe haven has lost its appeal. My thoughts and I are in crowded isolation. Is my only son amongst friend or foe? Deathly apprehension invades my every minute. It is difficult to breathe.
30 April 1915
My love is lost.
I knew before the uniformed man, with the forced smile, handed me the envelope of despair. The words, already imprinted on my mind, “Regret to ……killed in action……Gallipoli…….” blurred into lucidity.
It is apparent that freedom, peace and family, all the things that make up a truly worthwhile and satisfying existence must somehow be purchased using the greatest currency of all – life.
I hope no one ever has to face this reality again. But already I know this dream is perfectly flawed.
Gingerly I push at the trap door that has divided life gone by with present time. Dust escapes every crevice, drifting on unmoving air, unsure where to go or how to get there. I enter the attic like a soldier finding refuge within the confines of an allied trench.
Mountains of history sit waiting to be remembered. Against one wall, boxes of books are stacked as high as the roof will allow. Suitcases stuffed with clothing from days past scatter the kauri floor, all protected by a layer of dust so thick, a gust of wind would leave it untouched. In the middle of the floor, seemingly highlighted by a single ray of sunlight, sits a small, wooden box.
Unlike the rest, this box is clean and polished. It is here that I choose to sit, her box beside me, waiting expectantly. The lid lifts up easily. In our abandoned solitude, I lift out a book, causing photographs, discoloured and eared with age to flutter to the floor like pieces of an unfinished puzzle (Kokiri-Tangaere, 2014).
I start to read. Her diary, the history of sadness, that has linked my Grandmother’s life to my own…..