Passchendaele was ‘the worst stunt I have been in so far’ according to the Otago Infantry Regiment’s 2nd Lieutenant Jack Pryce who had previously experienced the full horror of Gallipoli.
When 22-year-old Jack sailed to war in 1915 he was restless, wanting to ‘make good’ of his life. Experiencing the carnage of Gallipoli and the Western Front, he rose through the ranks to gain his commission. From the hell of the trenches to the exhilaration of being a ‘vagabond’ adrift in the world, this is the story of a young man experiencing life at its most deadly while never losing his humanity or zest for living.
Written on troopships, in training camps, bivvies, trenches and dugouts, his letters have spent the last century in an old satchel, seen by no one outside his immediate family.
Now they have been published in Jack’s Journey - A Soldier’s Experience of the First World War. It is the story of not just Jack but also his brothers Charlie Pryce (Otago Mounted Rifles), and George Pryce (Otago Infantry Regiment) and their wider family. Jack’s brother-in-law Bill Bailey, who had his jaw shattered by a shell at Messines, was one of a group of wounded soldiers who returned to New Zealand with pioneer plastic surgeon Dr Henry Pickerill. They became the first patients of the jaw hospital in Dunedin. Bill’s story (together with graphic photographs of his injuries) is included in the book.
Jack’s Journey sets a soldier’s letters in a contextual narrative, and is lavishly illustrated. It has been commended by war historian and author Ian McGibbon: ‘Jack’s letters to family members not only highlight his humanity, compassion and self-awareness but also offer a valuable insight into the experience of New Zealand soldiers in the war to end all wars.’
There's something so immediate about letters, a narrative that unfolds over time without the benefit of hindsight or reflection. Jack writes of Chunuk Bair and Passchendaele but gives them no greater weight than the small details of war - how he comforted a young Welsh soldier as he died at Gallipoli, and of the soldier who sang as he continued marching after being pulled from the depths of a freezing muddy shell hole at Ypres.
Jack’s story ends in a mystery which, nearly 100 years later, may be on the verge of being solved.
His letters (about 50,000 words in total) are still held by his family but will eventually be deposited in a New Zealand heritage institution.
About the Editors
Jack Pryce was a great uncle to Trish McCormack and Andrew Gibson.
An archivist with Archives New Zealand and a former journalist, Trish has an MA in History from Otago University. She has nine essays published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and is a regular feature writer for the New Zealand Genealogist. Trish is the author of three crime novels set in New Zealand national parks. The latest, Cold Hard Murder, was longlisted for the 2016 Ngaio Marsh Award.
Andrew has been fascinated since childhood by the story of the three brothers who went to war. He has done extensive research on the First World War culminating last year with a trip to the battlefields of the Western Front. It is his detective work using a mix of on-the-ground research and investigation of digitised records that may have solved a mystery that has haunted Jack’s family since the war.
Jack’s Journey A Soldier's Experience of the First World War edited by Trish McCormack & Andrew Gibson
Publisher: Glacier Press ([email protected])
Release date: October 2017
Format: Paperback, 228 x 152 mm, 262 pages, 76 images, 6 maps
Review copies and high res images of photographs and letters are also available. Contact Trish McCormack 027 303 2935 or Andrew Gibson 027 249 4254 or [email protected]