I waited on the Wellington docks as my older brother unpacked his things from the train. As I waited for him, I studied a poster that showed a recruitment cartoon of Tū-mata-uenga, the god of war. I realised that the railway lines on the wharf looked like snakes.
On my brother John’s uniform there was a crest that had two traditional Maori weapons, taiaha and tewhatewha that crossed through the crown. He was wearing a British Wolseley pattern sun helmet. He had tape around the top of his socks. One of his friends had a pack of blankets on his back. My brother complained, “It’s so hot right now and uncomfortable in this uniform.” His shorts and jacket looked really scratchy.
My mother whimpered, “It’s so sad that he has to go.”
My brother John muttered, “My bandolier over my shoulder is so uncomfortable.”
He went to sit on a bag. As he did, he fell back and people laughed. He yelled, “Stop laughing everybody!” I could feel my brother’s embarrassment and how ashamed he was. I felt his pain hard in my stomach. My brother mumbled, “All of my friends are happy.”
Just before they were about to board the SS Warrimoo all of the first contingent army performed a massive haka. I looked at my brother’s pūkana eyes. I could feel the haka deep in my blood.
As the first native contingent was boarding the SS Warrimoo I noticed the lifeboats hanging by the wire. I hoped he wouldn’t have to use them. The SS Warrimoo’s funnel poured out smoke as they were just about to leave.
My older brother was hanging over the rail. The boat slowly started to move. As it did, I shouted, “Bye big bro! Hope to see you soon!”
He yelled, “I should be back in a couple of months!”
But I thought that I may never see him again.
Listen to this story read by Syd Dewes here.