At the New Zealand Division Camp in Moascar, Egypt, Private Leith McArran, a soldier from Otago, befriends Private Tamati “Tommy” Baines. The two young soldiers have their own reasons for enlisting in the army. Leith struggles to live up to the expectations of his British veteran father, Lachlan McArran, while keeping an eye on his wounded older brother, Calum. Leith is constantly pressured by his father’s notion of war as a platform for masculine stoicism. Tamati Baines, an orphan, is determined to embark on “the Great Adventure.” It is later revealed that he lied about his age in order to enter the army.
Tensions arise between Maori and Pakeha soldiers as the Otago soldiers are merged into a new battalion, the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion. The “Pioneers” are assigned “behind-the-lines” work, which involves digging modern trenches and building roads, railroads, and barracks. Leith and Tamati make a great team, teaching each other about their cultures and aspirations, sharing in youthful dreams of romance and adventure, and ceaselessly looking out for each other on the battlefield. The soldiers of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion travel from camp in Moascar to the clubs of Cairo, from the trenches of Armentières to the fiery battleground of the Somme. Initially dissatisfied with their humdrum tasks and craving to engage in combat, Leith and Tamati are soon exposed to the war’s powerful devastation of body and soul.
David Hair’s 1916: Dig for Victory is the third instalment in Kiwis at War, a series of historical fiction novels aimed towards teenagers. These five novels, written by Kiwi authors, narrate the Great War, spanning the years 1914 to 1918. This particular novel focuses on the familial and personal repercussions of fighting in the Great War. Narrated in third person and with interspersed letters, the novel flows in chronological order, no doubt helped by thorough research. A timeline, glossary and photographs at the end of the novel provide a detailed glimpse into modern warfare. Hair’s descriptive writing fleshes out the visceral reactions to danger and death, and the ways in which soldiers worked to maintain hope and sanity in times of conflict.
Reviewed by Azariah Alfante
1916: Dig for Victory
By David Hair
Published by Scholastic