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Johnny Enzed – the truth of war in soldiers’ words

Johnny Enzed – the truth of war in soldiers’ words

What was it really like to fight in the First World War?

Testimonies from more than 2000 letters, diaries and journal entries of New Zealand soldiers who served in the Great War (1914-1918) provide vivid, moving and horrifying written accounts in a new book by Massey University Professor of War Studies Glyn Harper.

Johnny Enzed: The New Zealand soldier in the First World War 1914-1918 takes the reader deep into the territory and terrors of life at war: the gas attacks, rats in the trenches and the putrid stench of rotting bodies.

The entries also reveal the depth and strength of the camaraderie between soldiers as they faced unimaginable physical hardships, danger and suffering on the battlefronts of the Middle East, the Western Front in Europe and in Gallipoli, Turkey.

First hand accounts expose the truth of soldiers’ lives as they experienced the war, Professor Harper says, enabling readers to gain a new understanding of what it was like for the ordinary soldier a century ago.

In one of the many poignant, revealing entries Lieutenant Harry Kenrick, who was with the 3rd Otago Battalion in the 4th Brigade, describes his thoughts at the October Battle of Broodseinde in Belgium:

My prayer and that of some others was; ‘Please God, when the shell with my number on it comes my way I either get a ‘blighty’ and be able to walk out or be killed outright – but not wounded and left to die in the mud.’ Not a very cheerful sentiment for a boy who had just turned 19 years of age.”

The 720-page hardback book with 150 photos (Exisle Publishing), will be launched at a special event in Palmerston North on Friday, August 7 to commemorate the legendary Gallipoli battle of Chunuk Bair.

The Johnny Enzed of the title is a term New Zealand soldiers of the time would have used to call themselves, says Professor Harper.

“There were many of these but surprisingly, ‘Kiwi’ was seldom used. The term ‘Enzed’ or ‘Enzeder’ was in common use and could not be applied to – or taken by – Australians, like the terms ‘Anzac’ or ‘Digger’. ‘Johnny’, meaning fellow or person, had been frequently used in New Zealand from the mid-nineteenth century,” he says.

Professor Harper, the author of 20 books including nine for children on New Zealand’s war history, says the experience of reading soldiers’ diaries and letters in order to edit extracts for the book was deeply affecting, despite the years he has spent researching New Zealand’s military history.

“There were many things that surprised me in my research for this book. The quality of the soldiers’ writing has always amazed me. They were quite a literate group. Their use of language was inventive and unique too and I have a section on this in the book.

“It defined them too as being able to ‘sling the bat’ (speak the language) and marked you as being part of the soldier community. The importance of communal singing was interesting and it surprised me to learn that at one time the New Zealand Division had five different concert groups performing shows near the front line. The emphasis soldiers placed on food, drink and sex was to be expected, but it was gratifying to find candid accounts of this in their diaries and sometimes even in their letters back home.”

More than 100,000 men and women embarked for overseas service during the First World War, and almost 60,000 of them became casualties.

The book’s publication and Chunuk Bair commemoration are part of the Centenary History of New Zealand and the First World War project, a collaboration between Massey University, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, the New Zealand Defence Force and the Returned and Services’ Association.

Professor Harper is Massey Project Manager for the Centenary History of 13 volumes of the New Zealand involvement in the First World War. Johnny Enzed: The New Zealand Soldier in the First World War 1914 – 1918 is one of five produced by Massey historians.

ENDS


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