Blog Archives

With the Second Division, Tony Simpson

A Bloody Road Home: World War Two and New Zealand’s Heroic Second Division Christopher Pugsley Penguin, $70.00 ISBN 9780143571896 It might seem strange that we have had to wait seven decades from the conclusion of WWII for a comprehensive history

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review, War

Rescuing an heroic figure, Jane Westaway

Petals & Bullets: Dorothy Morris, New Zealand Nurse in the Spanish Civil War
Mark Derby
Potton and Burton, $40.00,
ISBN 9781927213766

In the preface to Mark Derby’s new book, Spanish War historian Angela Jackson writes of the challenge in recounting the lives of so-called “do-gooders”. Such figures – often female – aren’t sexy. They tend to live beyond the public eye, the corridors of power and the celebrity-mad media. Thus, they leave behind precious little of the source material biographers and historians rely on. Derby notes a related difficulty – that of making a dedicated life “appear interesting” – even though his subject is Dorothy Morris, a Christchurch nurse who worked in Spain during the Civil War, caring for horribly injured civilians and soldiers, as well as starving and traumatised children and refugees.

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

Mingling the sacred and the profane, Martin Edmond

The Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing
Harry Ricketts and Gavin McLean (eds)
Penguin Books, $65.00, ISBN 9780143573098

Oddly enough – or perhaps not – when this book arrived at my door I remembered one of the more arcane customs recorded in Te Rangi Hiroa’s The Coming of the Māori: “Warriors before setting out on a military campaign,” he writes, “each in turn bit (ngau) the cross beam (paepae) of the latrine.” These were cliff-side toilets in hill forts and the cross beam was what you held onto while you shat into the void below. There was a strong tapu upon it, to prevent the theft of faecal matter for the purposes of sorcery; and the ceremony of the biting of the bar was attended by a tohunga chanting karakia considered protective of Te Hokowhitu a Tu as they went off to make war.

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Voices from the past, Jock Phillips

Remembering Gallipoli: Interviews with New Zealand Gallipoli Veterans
Christopher Pugsley and Charles Ferrall (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00
ISBN 9780864739919

Amid the flood of printed words that have marked the centenary of New Zealand’s Gallipoli experience, Remembering Gallipoli comes with, in every sense, the most history. The interviews on which the book is based were initially conducted in 1982 by four women, members of a media company, Bluestockings, as background research for Television New Zealand. There were 130 soldiers and one nurse interviewed, all in their late 80s or 90s. Chris Pugsley and Maurice Shadbolt then re-interviewed 21 (or 26 as Pugsley writes elsewhere) on camera. Extracts were used in the powerful 1984 documentary Gallipoli: The New Zealand Story and drawn on for Pugsley’s magnificent book in the same year with the same name. Shadbolt chose 12 of the subjects to tell their stories in his stirring Voices of Gallipoli (1988), a book which was a revelation to many, including Helen Clark, who read it on the plane flying to Gallipoli in 2000 when she conceived of a project to record the memories of WWII veterans.

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On a human scale, Felicity Barnes

Holding on to Home: New Zealand Stories and Objects of the First World War
Kate Hunter and Kirstie Ross
Te Papa Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9780987668851

One hundred years on, WWI continues to loom large in New Zealand life. With the advent of the centenary, New Zealand’s “Great War” has taken on a literally monumental scale, with new and revitalised memorial structures, including the dedication of a national public war memorial space. Anzac Day saw record attendances across the country: 10,000 turned out in Whangarei, whilst Rotorua’s crowds prompted the mayor to consider holding two services in future years. In Wellington, Te Papa’s exhibition [in conjunction with Weta Workshop and Richard Taylor], “Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War”, is actually larger than life, using oversized models of service people in an attempt to represent the magnitude of New Zealand’s commitment.

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Captions and context, David Littlewood

The Anzacs: An Inside View of New Zealanders at Gallipoli
Auckland War Memorial Museum
Penguin, $45.00,
ISBN 9780143572336

Brothers in Arms: Gordon and Robin Harper in the Great War
Jock Phillips with Philip Harper and Susan Harper
NZHistoryJock, $40.00,
ISBN 9780473308773

One of the more encouraging historiographical developments of recent times has been a greater willingness to prioritise alternative sources. Instead of producing blocks of text with a few pictures thrown in for embellishment, scholars are increasingly using images as a central part of their efforts to communicate the “experiences” of the past. Both The Anzacs and Brothers in Arms demonstrate the potential of this approach for studies of New Zealand soldiers during the Great War. However, one of them manages to structure and balance its various elements more effectively than the other.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review, War

Cultural mobilisation, Philippa Mein Smith

Calls to Arms: New Zealand Society and Commitment to the Great War
Steven Loveridge
Victoria University Press, $40.00.
ISBN 9780864739674.

Impressed by the Blackadder account of WWI when he was a child, Steven Loveridge grew up to write a PhD thesis followed by this book, whose aim is to explore not WWI as it was fought, but the relationship between the local war effort and New Zealand society. Loveridge argues that there was a broad cultural mobilisation in New Zealand in support of the war effort. This mobilisation was not imposed by elites but swelled from the ground up, buoyed by a suite of generally accepted cultural values, beliefs and sentiments. To make his case, Calls to Arms is organised into six chapters, supported by illustrations that survey selected areas where New Zealand society and culture intersected with mobilisation for the Great War.

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Hitting the mark, Matthew Wright

Desert War: The Battle of Sidi Rezegh
Peter Cox
Exisle, $35.00,
ISBN 9781921966705

Mention Sidi Rezegh to most New Zealanders today and there is a good chance they will look at you strangely. A few, probably, will nod and perhaps name a relative who was lost there. This is predictable: in many ways, the New Zealand battle for that bleak North African ridge – part of the Crusader campaign of November-December 1941 – stands in the shadow of better known 20th-century  battles such as Gallipoli, Passchendaele, Crete, El Alamein and Cassino. This status as poor cousin has been rectified in Peter Cox’s Desert War: The Battle of Sidi Rezegh. The book emerged from his earlier work on his father’s war experience at Sidi Rezegh, and covers the wider New Zealand experience in the Crusader operations of November-December 1941.

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Explaining WWI, Steven Loveridge

The Bantam and the Soldier
Jennifer Beck (Robyn Belton illus)
Scholastic, $19.50,
ISBN 9781775432074

The Anzac Puppy
Peter Millett (Trish Bowles illus)
Scholastic, $19.50,
ISBN 9781775430971

Best Mates: Three Lads Who Went to War Together
Philippa Werry (Bob Kerr illus)
New Holland, $20.00,
ISBN 9781869664114

Jim’s Letters
Glyn Harper (Jenny Cooper illus)
Picture Puffin, $25.00,
ISBN 9780143505907

Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story
Philippa Werry (Bob Kerr illus)
New Holland, $25.00,
ISBN 9781869663803

The contemporary challenge of making sense of WWI is made considerably trickier in regard to young readers with the, (understandable) limits on how the realities of war might be conveyed to the 5-12 age group. Rising to this challenge, and joining the surge of publications accompanying the war’s centenary, the five works reviewed here present aspects of New Zealand’s war experience to young readers. Striking illustrations, some sketched from familiar photographs, aid in this task, conveying scene and tone. Indeed, the attention to expressions and pose (which range from scenes of mirth to downward gazes and thousand-yard stares) are well used to convey mood. They are also imbued with an impressive attention to detail; though I’ll have to ask Bob Kerr how available The Māoriland Worker, which the Best Mates are shown reading, was at Gallipoli.

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Posted in Children, Literature, Review, War

Yesterday today, Glyn Harper

How We Remember: New Zealanders and the First World War
Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780864739353

With the centenary of WWI now upon us, a flood of books on New Zealand’s role in that conflict can be expected. The first of these appeared in late 2013, and this trend will continue for the next few years. Amongst the books on offer in 2014 is How We Remember: New Zealanders and the First World War edited by Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts. Few of the publications that will appear over the coming years will match How We Remember for its diversity or its insights.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Sociology, War
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