Early 1914, I am working in my family's cornfields and wheatfields. It is the summer.
My name is Steve Hannen and I am 18 years old. The work is hard and boring. The eleventh day of August 1914 England declared war against Germany. The war drains countries. Thus, the British Empire needs soldiers and there is an enlistment policy. I think I need to do something of my life. The government has created the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). The NZEF is the title of the military forces from New Zealand, which fight for Great Britain during the war. I have to announce to my parents that I want to go to war. I don't know if they will be happy but I want to help my country. Moreover, the war will not be so long.
‘Hello father, can I ask you a question?’
‘Yes, you can’, my father said.
‘I want to go to war. The British Empire needs men in order to fight. If we don’t have soldiers, we will lose the war and Germany will dominate us. I want to protect our country’.
‘Really? War is not a game. You can die. I wish you knew what you are doing. But, I think you’re right. If you want to go and fight, you can do this. I believe in you. Talk to your mother’
‘Okay, thank you!’
I tell the same thing to my mother and she agrees like my father.
I prepare myself mentally and physically for the war. I run everymorning near my parent's fields. I have to pass medical exams. I must be fit. One day, I think I am ready. It's the moment of truth. I am happy beacuse I successfully passed medical exams. I will embark soon with other guys. Finally, I will see the war and I will help my country.
I always keep photographs of my parents’ fields on me. This reminds me of my childhood in Tadmor. I am not alone in this fight.
Today is the 15th of August 1914. I’m on the dock; I’m waiting to embark on the ship.
I don’t know if I am feeling glad, scared or awful.
Going to the front in order to defend my country is something I have to do, maybe it's something I wanted, but I am not sure now.
I am thrilled of the departure. It was for me a natural choice and an opportunity to come back as a hero. This is the occasion to accomplish actions for my country. Moreover I won't miss my daily life in the landscape of New Zealand. I heard that women love soldiers because of their strength and virile aspect, in fact in my landscape there aren't lots of women ( and if I wanted to attract one among the rare beauties, this is MY one and only chance ) and I expect to be wed quickly after my return.
The farewell party was depressing, every mother was crying and mumbling prayers to their lovely sons. I just told my mum good bye because I thought it wasn't even a real farewell because in less than a year I'll be right back.
When I see the ship for the first time, it seems really incredible. It is huge, prestigious. All the other soldiers are impressed too. But when we get on it, it is not as great as we thought it would be. It is dull and nothing seems to live here. The atmosphere is cold and dark. We walk in the corridor in silence to join the little space which serves as a bedroom. We are fifteen per room, we have known each other since childhood, but we don’t speak together, maybe because we are scared. I put myself in the room and then, I go walking on the landing stage. We have weeks of travel before we arrive in Great Britain. Before we go on the field, and fight until we die. There is no means of coming back.
The journey begins. I have to adapt myself to the ocean. The flow, the waves and the weather. It is the first time I am on a boat that long. It feels weird, we are moving slowly on the waves, in rhythm. I never felt that insecure.
The morning, we are all awake at the same time, at 5:00 am. But no one talks before 8:00 am. Some of us are crying, but most people, including me, are quiet and are thinking about their old life.
Already a day has gone by! Yesterday we embarked for Australia, then after we'll leave for Egypt. I'm more thrilled than before because, on the boat we can really feel the emotions.
We are young, and we decide to go to war. It seemed really exciting, to save people and to be a hero. But now, we are all realizing we will risk our lives, even for a great cause. I don't really know if it is worth it anymore. I left everything I care about behind to save people I would never meet. It is scaring us, but we act as if it didn’t, because we need to be strong to survive war.
The first weeks are the hardest ones. We all need to adapt, it is just a matter of time. The food is bland and tasteless; it’s always the same thing. Now, it doesn't matter what we eat or not, we just have to. We don't know, maybe, on the field, food will be rare, and the only resources we will get, would be the ones we are eating here. I need to be careful, after all, war is not a game.
Life on the boat is harder that I thought. First, it's really dirty, so many men in a little space, we are all gathered in a little room for the night. Even natural needs are complicated to do.
It smells of poo, sweat, rotten fish. I'm starving because we don't have a lot of thing to eat here, my mum used to cook awesome dishes for me and here it's so disgusting.
Sometimes, I wanted to cry but I don't even have enough space for this! I'm bored, we don’t have anything to do except sports and even this is hard to do, due to the lack of space on the boat.
All day, we are training on the boat, and some of us are really sick. Moving fast on a boat moving slowly, the feeling is odd, but I can handle it. Somehow, we have to. We need to keep working out, to have a healthy body, strong enough to survive. The weakest ones would be the first people to die. I am feeling bad, thinking this, maybe it makes me a bad person, and it scares me. But, it scares me more to realize that it is the truth.
I can't handle the grime on the boat. I sleep next to dirty men who stink and even rats. I’m having second thought about my enlistment. I miss my house so much! Well, don't worry, it's just a bad day, tomorrow will be better!
The more days go by, the more I miss my family, and it’s difficult to find strength to go to war, while I am likely never to see them again. Everybody feels the same, we doubt about our choice. Did we make the right choice? We don’t know. We may have known each other since our childhood, but now, we are just strangers, and we are scared to share our feelings. All the ship smells like fear, doubts, frustration or anger. Maybe we don't speak about our feelings, because there is nothing to say more than the way you look at the others. Us, soldiers, are all the same.
On the boat the team spirit of the first days has vanished, every man feels down hearted. Our captain has noticed it, and in order to change this he has organised a party tonight where we will be allowed to drink alcohol and to smoke some cigars. It's kind from this austere man but I don't feel in a party mood tonight. But sure that I'll go there, it'll probably help me escaping for a few hours from my roommates which are literally disgusting and stinking. Something that I know now it's that all the propaganda billboards which spoke about friendship and new bonds with our enlistment lied; moreover they never mentioned the awful living condition on the ship.
To recapitulate my last days, after the party organised by one of the captains I was drunk, for the first time. I regret it because when I woke up I felt really sick, but at the same time I felt better as I was less tired of life on the ship, and for a time I forgot my roommates. But then everything started again as before. But I kept the chin up due to my mum waiting for my return from war. I wanted her to be proud of me. One of my numerous dull days I promised myself to help my parents financially. It would be a way for them to be less reliant on the harvest.
My best friend didn’t enrol, and I was glad of that, because, somehow, he will keep an eye on them and will take care of our families, but he won’t get killed, and won’t have an awful and painful death. He is kind of lucky. I often think about him. He works hard, and I thank him in my prayer.
But now I can see the land of our arrival, Egypt, more precisely Alexandria. I have craved to be there since my departure from New-Zealand, after two months of being stuck on the ship, there we are at last! To me this trip is not only the opportunity to travel all around the world but also to come back in my village with a rent for my duty given to my country, and to start a life in a city in New-Zealand without forgetting my promise to myself to help my parents with this rent.
So yes, despite of the risk of death, I am thrilled for all this. Because if I had stopped only for a matter of risk, I couldn’t have done anything for the rest of my life, except being a farmer in Tadmor Valley.