Book Review: Victory, New Zealand Airmen and the Fall of Germany, by Max Lambert

Available in all good bookstores from June 1 2014. 

With Victory, New Zealand Airmen and the Fall of Germany, journalist and author Max cv_victoryLambert completes an extraordinary chronicle of the part young New Zealand men played as pilots and aircrew in many theatres of the second world war.

This latest book by Lambert focusses on the period from the allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944 to the final collapse of Germany in May 1945. The book in fact is being released to bookshops in New Zealand on 1 June to mark the anniversary of the D Day landings.

Flying in Lancasters, Halifaxes, Blenheims, Sunderland Flying Boats, Stirlings, Mosquitos, Buffulos, Glider Planes, Typhoons and even unarmed Dakotos, the young kiwi pilots, some even teenagers, created a history of service and fortitude that Lambert has managed to research with skill and present in a no nonsense narrative of the kind you would expect from such an experienced and acclaimed journalist.

There are stories of aircrew who came through unscathed. There are more, unfortunately, where the tiny black cross against their names in the index, indicates that they did not survive. Many were wounded, some taken prisoner, a number lost without trace. The latter are all remembered at the Air Forces Memorial at Runneymede.

Some of the New Zealanders were involved in the heavy bombing of Germany’s industrial centres and cities such as the Ruhr, Dresden, Hamburg and Berlin. A training crew in a Sunderland Flying Boat depth charged and sank a U-Boat off the coast of Norway, while it was on its way to impede the allied landings.

Pilots were often told to steer clear of the air above the massive invasion force because the “navy is not good at aircraft recognition” and there was an ever-present danger of being shot down by friendly fire.

Les Munro, aged 23, the kiwi pilot in the famous Dambusters raid earlier in the war, flew as second pilot to the famous squadron commander, Wind Commander Leonard Chesire. They were leading the squadron in the highly skilled dropping of “chaff”, strips of aluminium that helped confuse German radar − leading them to believe that the landings were going to be at the Pas de Calais instead of Normandy. Other kiwis, West Coaster Terry Kearns, 23, and John Barclay, also 23, from Dunedin were also involved in that vital exercise.

Many of the battles which the kiwi airmen played a part are familiar, D-Day Landings, Arnhem, the crossing of the Rhine, even the landings in the South of France. He also touches on the surrender of German forces. But Lambert’s book traces all of these through “new eyes”, those of aircrew who were far from their country but played a very significant part in World War 2.

It is not only the accounts of key battles and events which are recorded by Lambert. The backgrounds and personal details of many of the kiwi aircrew are also included along with very interesting, sometimes scary, sometimes funny, accounts of their exploits.

Many families in New Zealand may well find Victory can be added as an important addition to other memorabilia recording the roles their forebears played in history.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

Victory, New Zealand Airmen and the Fall of Germany
by Max Lambert
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9781775540434

 

Great War centenary titles: first salvos fired

The White Ships has been an unlikely bestseller for Capital Books’ Tim Skinner. “You would have thought an account of New Zealand’s WW1 hospital ships would be a specialist title with a limited audience, but we have sold a surprising number.”

Maritime historian Gavin McLean’s spirited account of the two USS Co vessels the Maheno and Marama converted into hospital ships in 1915 was helped by a wealth of archive documentation and a very human drama that occurred on the Maheno: were nurses entitled to officer status and the privileges of rank?
cv_the_white_ships
“How many people know that there were civilians at Gallipoli?” McLean also says. “In between handling their ship, the Maheno’s merchant seamen helped the army medics, moving patients and helping in surgery.” And while the government paid the ships’ charter fees, New Zealanders dug deep to fit out the ships’ surgical theatres and to provide comforts for their patients.

Sidelight though it may be, The White Ships is just one of a barrage of international and local book titles that will ensure ‘the war to end all wars’ will be recognised, remembered and re-assessed from the perspective of a century.

QR codes part of overview of our WW1 involvement
pp_lincoln_gould_seattleBooksellers CEO Lincoln Gould (left), a knowledgeable fan of military history, was impressed by Damien Fenton’s New Zealand and the First World War 1914 – 1919. “It covers the history of New Zealand at war, but with many intriguing differences: unexpectedly it is very, very colourful.

“Of course most of the photographs are black and white but often with sepia finish or bleeding into a marbled like treatment across each page which appears to be achieved by a progressive fading of a photograph. The effect is a sense of age. But then comes the reproduction of colourful paintings such Ion G Brown’s 1915 image of the last moments of New Zealand heroism at Chunuk Bair (below).

ion G brown_chunuk_bair_national Library“The ephemera of the war also provides colour: tickets to fundraising carnivals in Kiwi towns and cities, occupation currency to be used by New Zealand occupation forces in Germany in 1919, programmes for victory marches and victory balls. Scattered throughout are pasted-in envelopes containing for instance, enlistment posters for the young lions of the empire, Australia, Canada, India, and New Zealand to support the Old Lion as he ‘defies his foes.’

wwi-book-2_Mission Hall Creative“And of course there are envelopes containing facsimiles of heart-wrenching letters home to parents from sons about to go into battle and not to return.” (see above, courtesy of Penguin Books NZ)

The featured pull-out ‘paper engineering’ memorabilia cv_new_zealand_and_the_first_world_warmeant each book took 45 minutes to hand assemble at the printing company! New Zealand and the First World War 1914 – 1919 also has a QR code on the slipcase which links readers with smartphones/tablets to online resources. “There will be many more books to come recounting the New Zealand experience of the First World War, but for any family with a connection back to forebears who served, this book will help to understand, maybe not why, but certainly how a young New Zealand stood up to the greatest challenge it had ever faced,” Lincoln comments.

Technical additions such as QR codes can be used fruitfully in history books especially, where it is useful to the reader to see some of the key information used by the historian in informing their works. We expect there to be several larger books like this to come out with their own websites or blogs, for this same purpose.

WW1 shadows current happenings in Ukraine?
Writer’s Week NZ Festival guest Margarcv_the_war_that_ended_peaceet MacMillan is the author of The War that Ended Peace, ‘a catastrophic conflict which killed millions of its men, bled economies dry, shook societies to pieces, and fatally undermined Europe’s dominance of the world… a war which could have been avoided up to the last moment.’

Blogging for the NZ Listener following MacMillan’s discussion, David Larsen noted she drew parallels to what is happening between Russia and Ukraine now: An alarming question that MacMillan did not answer it in terms likely to soothe fears. History is sometimes genuinely leader-driven, she said – “It really matters who’s sitting in the office” – and the desire to project power in order to be seen to have it is as real and dangerous now as it was in 1914.

pp_margaret_macmillan“We tend to patronise the past, because we know how it turned out,” she says – it’s easy to look back and wonder how people could fail to see disasters coming. A great deal of MacMillan’s discussion could be summarised as: “History is crazy-complicated, and trying to figure out what really happened in something like 1914’s spiral down to war is difficult where it isn’t impossible.” In this connection, Ukraine right now provides a salutary reminder, Larsen noted.

Catastrophe indeed
Max Hastings’ Catastophe: Europe Goes to War 1914cv_catastrophe is a flowing narrative history of the months leading up to the start of World War 1 and the first months of war, finishing in December 1914. Lincoln Gould calls it ‘a triumph of research’ revealing the complexity of study that Hastings has brought to detailing the political and military build-up to the war.

“Hastings manages to expertly weave the political and military detail with personal and human accounts. British PM Asquith is more interested in wooing socialite Venetia Stanley than keeping watch on events in Europe that were cascading into disaster though some of his letters to her, written during cabinet office meetings, are the only evidence of important discussions in that most famous of back-rooms.”

Hastings has not just given us just another account of what we already know, says Gould. “There is much in his research that is new to the non-academic military historian. And the way he has inter-connected events right across the whole landscape of the beginning of the Great War is enlightening to the reader. He also brings honesty to the accounts of the major players which is refreshing, even if he seems somewhat harsh on the British army, particularly their officers.”flanders_fields

Flanders a ‘muddy stalemate and thoughtless waste of life’
That is Lincoln Gould’s summing up of those battles,cv_passchendaele described with chilling detail in Andrew Macdonald’s Passchendaele: The Anatomy of a Tragedy. “Most of us with interest in the history of New Zealand’s involvement in the Flanders battles of WW1 probably never focus on victory or defeat but rather on muddy stalemate and thoughtless waste of life.

“There were victories, particularly for New Zealanders, at Messines and Les Quesnoy. But there were also tragedies with little to gain, especially at Passchendaele. There, the battle of Third Ypres or First Passchendaele, saw 845 New Zealanders killed on October 12, 1917 along with 1,952 wounded. Over the period from 13-18 October 1917, 570 New Zealanders were killed with 620 reported missing and 2,016 injured.

“With Andrew Macdonald’s Passchendaele we now have a forensic study, providing a deeper understanding of why our young country paid such a price. And a reader can only conclude that the tragedy was avoidable.” For more information on this book, see Lincoln’s review on the Booksellers NZ blog.

Andrew Macdonald is an experienced journalist, turned war historian and author. He has brought to this book a reporter’s skill to sort the facts from the myths. Professional historian Dr Christopher Pugsley has called Passchaendale a ‘benchmark for future battle studies’.

How to sort the wheat from the chaff for your customers
For booksellers, the barrage of Firstpp_tim_skinner_ World War books will take some winnowing to match the level of customers’ interests; to date many have been surprised by the amount of interest in stories of the Great War.

Nor will 2014  be the end of military histories… Tim Skinner from Capital Books in Wellington (and our publishers lists) indicate that there will be many more to come over the next four years. As well as the books mentioned in the feature, Tim Skinner is happy to share others in his store’s top 10:

The Great Adventure Ends: New Zealand and France on cv_the_great_adventure_endsthe Western Front, by Chris Pugsley, John Crawford et al (John Douglas Publishing) ISBN 9780987666581

The Echoes That Remain: A History of the New Zealand Field Engineers During the Great War, by Clement Wareham  (Natula Publishing) ISBN 9781897887967

Voyage to Gallipoli: troopships from Australia and New Zealand, by Peter Plowman (transpress) ISBN 9781877418150

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to War in 1914, bycv_the_sleepwalkers Chris Clark (Penguin Books) ISBN 9780141027821

1913: The  World before the Great War, by Charles Emmerson (The Bodley Head) ISBN 9781847922267

1914 Fight the Good Fight: Britain the Army and the Coming of the First World War, by Allan Mallinson (Bantam Press) ISBN 9780593067611

Written by Jillian Ewart, writer of The Read feature articles

Book Review: A photo album, a scrapbook and World War 1

A review of two books published to commemorate the upcoming centenary of WW1:

New Zealand and the First World War 1914-19 by Damien Fenton (Penguin)
Images of War by Glyn Harper and the National Army Museum (HarperCollins)

These two books represent impressive and important illustrated histories ensuring New Zealanders have the opportunity to gain a visual understanding of the history of the First World War  as fought by our soldiers and experienced by our country and our people.  They are both compelling books, although each for its own reasons.

Highly experienced cv_images_of_warand noted military historian Glyn Harper has not only done an excellent job in sifting through many official archives but, following a public appeal,  has also caused many private citizens to  release photographs often taken on front lines or general operational areas by soldiers who were actually forbidden to do so.  By the time of the First World War, photography had left the purview of the professional photographer with expensive glass plates and long processing times, and had become a hobby for the people.  Kodak, with the box Brownie and advanced processing techniques had democratised photography as had Henry Ford popularised cars with the Model  T.  Thus many New Zealanders serving in the theatres of war had a “soldiers Kodak” tucked away – illegally –  in their kitbag creating the opportunity for the WW1 to be the most comprehensively photographed of any previous conflict.

From all sources, 20,000 photographs were searched, a “long list” of 1240 chosen with 700 photographs eventually included in the book.  Harper has laid out his selection to cover all the major theatres where New Zealanders served as well as their training and preparation in New Zealand. By doing so he has also woven the chronology of the war from start to finish and even something of the aftermath, into 400 pages of a compelling memorial to those who served. There are a lot of tragic scenes, but also many scenes that lift the spirit.

Harper also places the illustrative content into context with well written introductions to each  section and insightful captions  to the photographs.  Just as this book was made possible by advances in petrographic technology early last century, it is clear that modern digital image enhancement, printing and publishing technology have all been used to ensure a quality production.

The photographs of the aftermath of the war are also demonstrate technological advance – medical and surgical advances to heal the wounds especially related to plastic surgery and the work of Sir Harold Gillies.

cv_new_zealand_and_the_first_world_warLatest printing and production techniques combined with old fashioned manual labour lie behind the launch this month at Government House of the official WW100 New Zealand and the First World War by Damien Fenton.  Again, like Images of War, it covers the history of New Zealand at war, but with many intriguing differences. Firstly, colour is used in this book and it is very, very colourful.

Of course most of the photographs are black and white but often with sepia finish and  bordering on the one hand or bleeding into a marbled like treatment across each page which appears to be achieved by a progressive fading of a photograph. The effect is a sense of age. But then comes the reproduction of colourful paintings such as Ion G Brown’s 1990 image of the last moments of New Zealand heroism at Chanuk Bair and portraits of war leaders such as Haig and Joffre.  But most colour comes from the ephemera of the war. There is an abundance of tickets to fundraising queen carnivals in kiwi towns and cities, programmes to concerts, occupation currency to be used by New Zealand occupation forces in Germany in 1919, programmes to victory marches and victory balls.

Then comes the manual labour associated with this remarkable scrapbook-like publication. Scattered throughout are pasted-in envelopes containing for instance, enlistment posters for the young lions of the empire, Australia, Canada, India and New Zealand to support the Old Lion as he “defies his foes” . Another of these opaque envelopes contains the list of New Zealanders missing or wounded as published by the Red Cross enquiry Bureau for May 1917 while another has inside reproduction of trench map of one of the Flanders battlefields featuring the village of Messines where the New Zealanders fought and won an historic battle.

There are other maps set on to pages as small fold-outs which provide clear and precise information on various battles.  And of course there are envelopes containing facsimiles of heart-wrenching letters home to parents from sons about to go into battle and not to return.

It is understood from Penguin, publishers of this book in Association with the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, that the collection of the images paraphernalia and ephemera for this book began in 2009.  Once author Damien Fenton with Gavin McLean and Tim Shoebridge had written and prepared all the material, all the bits and pieces were assembled in a production line at Leo Paper Products in China with each of the envelopes and fold out maps and cards inserted by hand – each book taking 40 minutes to finish.

There will be many more books to come recounting the New Zealand experience of the First World War but for any family with a connection back to forebears who served either or both of these books will help to understand, maybe not why, but certainly how a young New Zealand stood up to the greatest challenge it had ever faced.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould, CEO, Booksellers NZ

New Zealand and the First World War 1914 – 1919
by Damien Fenton
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143569756

Images of War: New Zealand and the First World War in Photographs
by Glyn Harper and the National Army Museum
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781775540342

Book Review: Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914, by Max Hastings

Available in bookstores now

Max Hastings’ Catastophe:  Europe Goes to War 1914 is cv_catastrophea triumph of research revealed in a free-flowing narrative history of the months leading up to the start of World War 1 and the first few months of the conflict, finishing in December 1914.

Given that this book is more than 600 pages long, one might expect that it would have covered a lot more than a few months of the four year war. But the length is an indicator of the complexity of study that Hastings has brought to detailing the political and military build-up to the war.  It then follows the history of the crucial few months of fast-moving action before the “stalemate in our favour” (Sir John French, British Commander in Chief) ground the war in Western Europe to a bloody double line of trenches from the North Sea to Switzerland.

venetia_stanley

Venetia Stanley

Hastings manages, with great expertise, to weave the political and military detail with the personal and human accounts and effects.  British Prime Minister Asquith is more interested in wooing socialite Venetia Stanley than keeping watch on events in Europe that were cascading into disaster.  Actually, some of his letters to her, written during cabinet office meetings, are the only evidence of important discussions in that most famous of “back-rooms”.  At the other end of the scale, there are many glimpses of the personal sacrifices of ordinary people from Russia and the Balkans to Germany, Belgium and France.

Virtually all of the big picture aspects of the First World War are well-known, from the Archduke  Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, to the grand war plan of Schliffen, and the very quick mobilisation of vast forces on all sides and the rush to the various fronts. However, Hastings has not just given us just another account of what we already know.  There is much in his research that is new to the non-academic military historian.  And the way he has inter-connected events right across the whole landscape of the beginning of the Great War is enlightening to the reader. He also brings an honesty to the accounts of the major players which is refreshing even if he seems somewhat harsh on the British army, particularly their officers.

At the moment Catastrophe does not appear to have been published as an e-book.  It would be wonderful if it were published in a way that allowed readers to link electronically to the bibliographies and backgrounds of key aspects of the book.  However, the printed book is well-laced with photographs and maps, and anyone interested in the First World War would find this book of immense value in furthering their understanding of what indeed was an immense catastrophe.

Review by Lincoln Gould, CEO, Booksellers NZ

Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914
Written by Max Hastings
Published by William Collins (HarperCollins NZ distributor)
ISBN 9780007398577