Opinion

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."

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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.

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

You can read his story here.

In 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.