Blog Archives

In the service of one’s country, Mary Varnham

Le Quesnoy 1918: New Zealand’s Last Battle
Christopher Pugsley
Oratia, $45.00,
ISBN 9780947506490

My father served on the Western Front, having signed up at the age of 17 or thereabouts. He came from a lonely farm in the Akatarawa Valley, so joining a bunch of other young men and sailing to the other side of the world must have seemed alluring and exciting. The use of the word “serve” is interesting, though. I’m sure he had no intention to serve anyone or anything other than himself. It was a great escape. Few of the estimated 74,000 New Zealanders who, like my father, found themselves stumbling through oozing mud, running across open ground under fire, or clambering for miles through torturous forest undergrowth, would have seen this as something they had wanted or expected to do.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review, War

The costs of war, Jock Phillips

Gallipoli to the Somme: Recollections of a New Zealand Infantryman
Alexander Aitken (Alex Calder ed)
Auckland University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781869408817

Odyssey of the Unknown Anzac
David Hastings
Auckland University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781869408824

As we come towards the end of the four-year centenary of the Great War, the question looms: what have we learnt over these years about what was arguably the greatest trauma affecting the largest number of people that this country has ever seen?

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Posted in History, Review, War

Bustling energy, Kate Hunter

Make Her Praises Heard Afar: New Zealand Women Overseas in World War One
Jane Tolerton
Booklovers Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9780473399658

As many scholars have observed, it is very difficult to write a history of women and war. Not only is war regarded culturally as men’s domain, but capturing women’s stories is beset by methodological difficulties.

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Posted in Gender, History, Non-fiction, Review, War

Balancing the probabilities, Christopher Pugsley

Hit and Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the Meaning of Honour
Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson
Potton and Burton, $35.00,
ISBN 9780947503390

“What is it that we don’t understand? We’re going to lose this fucking war if we don’t stop killing civilians”: General Stanley McChrystal’s outburst at his morning staff briefing in the summer of 2009 reflected his concern about the steady trickle of Afghan civilian deaths from operations conducted by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). He wrote that the “instinctive way we reacted to alleged incidents made it worse”.  Investigations and apologies meant little if the incidents continued as they did. As a group of Afghan elders told one of his fact-finding teams: “Afghans hear with their eyes, not just with their ears.” In essence, it is not what you say, but what you do – which is the story of Nicky Hager’s and Jon Stephenson’s Hit and Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the Meaning of Honour.

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New Zealand’s bloodiest campaign, Steven Loveridge

New Zealand’s Western Front Campaign
Ian McGibbon
Bateman, $80.00,
ISBN 9781869539269

Efforts to explain and/or convey WWI’s Western Front have endured for a century. Libraries could be stocked with military histories investigating the operation of armies, the performance of commanders and the fortunes (often the misfortunes) of this critical centre of the war. Social and cultural studies contemplating subjects ranging from soldiers’ experiences, interpretations rendered in memoirs and monuments, and the wider legacies etched on belligerent societies, have flourished as avenues of inquiry. Popular cultural representations have likewise worked in establishing and transmitting a sense of the subject – the humour within Blackadder’s irreverent summation (“the mud, the noise, the endless … poetry”), for example, hinges on evoking accepted and shared touchstones with the audience.

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Powerful peace, Robert Sullivan

Te Whiti o Rongomai and the Resistance of Parihaka Danny Keenan Huia, $45.00, ISBN 9781775501954 This account of the non-violent resistance movement founded by the prophets Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi at the Taranaki settlement of Parihaka begins

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Posted in History, Māori, Non-fiction, Review, War

Imaging war, Stella Ramage

Behind the Twisted Wire: New Zealand Artists in World War I Jennifer Haworth Wily Publications, $50.00, ISBN 9781927167212 Recently, I had the privilege of watching the magnificently restored WWI propaganda film, Battle of the Somme (1916). Shot by official cinematographers

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Posted in Art, Non-fiction, Review, War

Memory and amnesia, Giovanni Tiso

To the Memory: New Zealand’s War Memorials Jock Phillips Potton and Burton, $60.00, ISBN 9780947503024 Think of it as a road guide to New Zealand of sorts, one that maps your route both spatially and chronologically: for almost every town

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Behind bars, Roger Robinson

The Prison Diary of A C Barrington: Dissent and Conformity in Wartime New Zealand John Pratt (with an introduction by John Barrington) Otago University Press, $40.00, ISBN 9781927322314 When did you last think about being in prison? Not the theory

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Mud, blood and misconception, Damien Fenton

First Day of the Somme: The Complete Account of Britain’s Worst-ever Military Disaster  Andrew Macdonald, HarperCollins, $40.00, ISBN 9781775540403 Experience of a Lifetime: People, Personalities and Leaders in the First World War  John Crawford, David Littlewood and James Watson (eds)

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