Felicity Wilson – The allure of traveling overseas during WW1

It is definitely no surprise to many when a person of my age finds the allure of overseas adventure, and the desire to escape from their ordinary lives, thrilling. Therefore, it must also not come as a surprise why the allure of adventure proved to be a compelling incentive that led many soldiers to enlist in World War One.

As fate would have it, it wasn’t until after my own remarkable journey I discovered that my great-great uncle, Gladstone Wilson, had fought and tragically died in Le Quesnoy on November 4, 1918. I often think about the drivers behind his decision to fight – how they parallel with my decision to travel, and how it ultimately led us to the same town in Northern France. 

Growing up on the same family farm as Gladstone, I couldn’t help but empathise with the very same aspirations that had spurred him to answer the call of war. Overseas travel (more of a rarity at the time) offered the prospect of excitement and personal growth to those from rural or small towns. Enlisting in the army promised a break from the rhythms of rural life, an escape from the mundane, and an opportunity to embark on a grand adventure.

Both Gladstone and I were naively innocent of the world before arriving in France, not having travelled outside of New Zealand prior. I was eager for the day I would traverse around Europe, experience new landscapes, explore new cultures, meet new people and prove my courage, resilience and resourcefulness. The advancement of air travel made this dream an easy reality for me – but for Gladstone, the same journey to the other side of the earth on the ship Tofua is one I deem reserved for the daring and determined. 

As I reflect on Gladstone’s sacrifice and the motives that led us both to Le Quesnoy, I find solace in knowing that our shared spirit of adventure unites us across the generational time that has passed. Yet, as I sit here writing this, my heart feels heavy, I cannot help but acknowledge the chasm that separates our experiences. My return home to New Zealand is a sobering reality that Gladstone did not live to tell his tale.

May we remember not only the allure of adventure that guided many young men to fight but also the immense cost of war, and honour the memory of those who gave their all in the pursuit of seeking adventure, only to contradicted by the brutalities of the battlefields. 

Up next:

What’s in your overseas bag – that depends on whether you are a soldier in the early 1900s, or on your OE in the 2020s. 

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