The centenary of battles on the Western Front is upon us, and the media has been reminding us of the scale of soldier sacrifice on the battlefield. There has also been a big push in the publishing about the First World War. In this context, New Zealand Society at War, being focussed on the homefront, provides a useful perspective and alternative to many of the other publications.
However, it is also very heavy duty scholarship, while also highlighting the depth in New Zealand history writing, based on the research of some of the recent additions to university history departments. Most of the authors of the chapters are actually professors, and this shows in the writing style and the particularly dense referencing, which takes up 80 pages.
So this book is very good on the detail of particular organisations, whether this be the military service boards, or the role of charities during the war. I found myself most interested in the treatment of ‘alien enemies’, or citizens of German extraction, in the chapters by Hucker, Loveridge & Brednich, and Jeanine Graham. The late Graham Hucker’s chapter is about the ‘Women’s Anti-German League’, and refers to a belief that there were Germans in the New Zealand army. Hence the campaign to “root out the Hun Hog.”
Steven Loveridge and Rolf Brednich highlight how Germans were treated in New Zealand during the war, especially after the trial of Arthur Rottmann for murder in Wellington, in December 1914. Interestingly, they refer to name changes of locations in the South Island, from German to Maori derived names. There is also detail on the internment of German citizens on Somes Island, and the personal tragedies involved. Then there are the more quirky examples of patriotism in Jeanine Graham’s chapter on children’s experience during the Great War. In particular, what children must have thought of their school pianos being vandalised, or replaced, because of a German brand, as happened at Foxton School in September 1918.
While the editing of New Zealand Society at War is commendable, there are some issues with the production and design. There seems to be a problem with the text, where random parts appear to be in bold, or had been still subject to change while in the production process.* VUP has also gone for a rather simple cover and design, with all the photographic plates appearing in one whole section after page 158, rather than being placed into the separate chapters. This compares adversely to another book in which many of the authors also appear, Experience of a Lifetime, which was published by Massey University Press earlier this year. It has a better cover, and many more design touches, as well as more work in integrating the photos and illustrations into the individual chapters. Both books have the same price, but New Zealand Society at War is a bit of an ugly duckling, which is a shame given the similar themes and excellent research.
Reviewed by Simon Boyce
New Zealand Society at War 1914-18
by Steven Loveridge (ed)
*This may have been just on the review copy.