Book Review: Good-Bye Maoriland: The Songs and Sounds of New Zealand’s Great War, by Chris Bourke

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_good-bye_maorilandOver the past few years, we have remembered many of the events during the Great War, 100 years on. Each battle is commemorated, medals are displayed, letters rediscovered and exhibitions opened to the public. The influence of the Great War on our distinctive New Zealand music was a story waiting to be told. I was delighted to find Chris Bourke has contributed another book to help chart the growth of music in our land. In his previous book, Blue Smoke: The Lost Dawn of Popular Music 1918-1964, he covered a huge range of styles and developments over 50 years. In Good-Bye Maoriland, he looks at the individuals and influences on our New Zealand music as a result of the Great War. Chris Bourke is a writer, radio producer and editor. He is meticulous in his research and I always appreciate the thorough notes that support his writing.

Bourke begins by describing the place of music in the family home. In 1916, 40% of New Zealand homes contained a piano. This is a staggering statistic when you consider the pianos were imported, heavy and very expensive. Music shops flourished selling the latest sheet music and music making was an important part of life for towns and cities. This was the era of Brass bands, the local Choir and Vaudeville Shows, which often travelled the length of the country and included visiting celebrities. However, the idea of making a living from music was still undeveloped for most citizens and the part played by music during the war shows how important it was as in uniting and entertaining the troops. Add to that, the patriotic nature of many songs and we begin to see the influence on the war to the development of New Zealand music.

The chapters follow a logical progression as they include the songs to stir recruits, the memories of soldiers lost, the Concert Parties, Waiata Maori and returning home. Each section shows the changes that occurred as the war advanced. It also charts a maturing of a distinctly New Zealand music. I can see Bourke writing Blue Smoke and realising that the Great War was a rich story on its own. Often it is not until we begin to seek answers that other questions arise.

This book is not just a well-researched history. Every page is illustrated with appropriate photographs. I found these fascinating as formal and informal shots allowed the reader to see the high standing in which music making was held. The cover artwork of many New Zealand written songs could actually make another book in the future. Especially, because so much of this music will be lost as families move and downsize.
This book will inform those interested in both war and the cultural history of New Zealand. It is a source book for anyone working with music of the period and a fascinating read for the generally curious, like me.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Good-Bye Maoriland: The Songs and Sounds of New Zealand’s Great War
by Chris Bourke
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408718

Book Review: New Zealand’s Western Front Campaign, by Ian McGibbon

Available in bookshops nationwide

cv_new_Zealands_western_front_campaign.jpgAmong many qualities of this book, two in particular stand out. Firstly, Ian McGibbon places New Zealand’s rightly praised efforts on the Western Front with between 70,000 and 100,000 men in the full context of the of the massive efforts of Britain with five million men plus many millions from France. As well, McGibbon sets out to debunk many of the myths that have crept into the kiwi World War One narrative.

For instance, he explains away the assertion made by some other historians that Lieutenant-General Godley, commander of the New Zealand Troops, was responsible for the tragedy of the New Zealand losses at Passchendaele. It has been suggested that Godley, knowing that preparations for the battle were not up to standard and thus the attack would likely fail, did not refuse orders to attack from higher command. Rather, it has been said, that Godley put his own career ahead of his men’s welfare to “please his Commander-in-Chief”. McGibbon points out that Godley, like any other soldier, was required to obey orders and if he did not he would have been replaced by someone probably a British officer, who would carry the attack.

There is much more in this extremely well-published book than the debunking of myths and ensuring a realistic assessment of New Zealand’s efforts in the wider context of the Western Front. McGibbon, of course, is hugely thorough in his research: he has long established a fine reputation for this, not least with The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History (ed., 2000). However, he writes in an easy style and while this book is “big”, being A4 size and 408 pages inclusive of notes, bibliography and index, it is very readable.

The book is structured in chronological order, with chapters focusing on key battles such as the Somme and Passchendaele, Messines (1917) and Le Quesnoy; the latter two being victories for the kiwis. But the book is much more than an account of battles. It traces the whole New Zealand effort from the time the New Zealand Division arrived from Gallipoli in great detail, its structure, its training, health and welfare. The New Zealanders were required to work with other nations’ forces and a whole chapter is devoted to “Coalition Warfare”. The home front, “Sustaining New Zealand’s Effort” is also detailed, inclusive of the arguments for and against and then, final introduction of compulsory service.

The illustrations in this book are impressive. Unfortunately there is not a separate index of them, but they are included in the page index. The maps in particular are a feature: in colour and very easy to follow. Most have been prepared especially for this book, although there are original battlefield maps as well. The large format of the books enhances the illustrative content which not only includes many photographs sourced from overseas and not previously used in New Zealand publications, but also some of the best of the art from the war.

This publication was supported by The Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s War History Trust as part of the First World War commemorative project by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and launched recently at the Beehive where I met and talked with author, Ian McGibbon. After 40 years working as a military historian for various government agencies, finally as General Editor (War History) at the Ministry, Ian spent about four years meticulously research this book. In his speech at the launch he made mention of this research method being instilled into him through the example of Major General Sir Howard Kippenberger who was appointed Editor-in-Chief of New Zealand’s largest-ever publishing project, the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45. Kippenberger set a high standard for the official histories, refused to contemplate censorship and demanded objectivity by his authors and editors. Principles which, by the example of his latest book, McGibbon has clearly absorbed.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

New Zealand’s Western Front Campaign
by Ian McGibbon
David Bateman Ltd
ISBN: 9781869539269

Book Review: The Anzac Puppy, by Peter Millett and Trish Bowles

This delightful picture book will engagcv_the_anzac_puppye children and adults alike; beautifully illustrated and with just the right amount of detail for a younger audience, it is a timely publication as the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I approaches.

Based on true events, The Anzac Puppy tells the story of a New Zealand soldier, Sam, and Freda, the puppy he takes with him to the Western Front. Both Sam and Freda endure the hardships of trench life over a long period of time, and grow into adulthood together. The story has a lovely ending that brings things full circle.

As I’m a teacher, I asked my class of new entrants to help me review the book. They enjoyed it very much, thought the pictures were beautiful, they appreciated the ending, and they liked that Freda was a brave dog who helped Sam to be brave too.

Wondering if slightly older children would gain more from the book, I read it to the class of 6-and-a-half-year-olds next door. They were much more interested in the depiction of war than the younger children, and were keen to start conversations about the war, why it happened, and their own family experiences of WW1. Some of the boys were less appreciative of the ending (one went so far as to pronounce “bleuch” very loudly!), but again, the children were impressed by the bravery of Freda, and they were fascinated by the true origins of the story.

The Anzac Puppy stands on its own as a lovely picture book to share with children aged 5 to 10, as themes of courage and bravery always appeal. It also serves as an excellent starting point for conversations about the many commemorations that will take place in New Zealand and overseas to mark the significant anniversaries of WW1, and helps to convey a little of the sense of horror that our servicemen and women must have endured in the trenches. Recommended – on both counts!

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The Anzac Puppy
by Peter Millett and Trish Bowles
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775430971

Book Review: Midnight, by Mark Greenwood & Frane Lessac

A lovely story set in rural New South Wales, this book,cv_midnight_horsebased on fact, tells the story of Midnight and her owner Guy Haydon.

Born in 1905, Midnight’s life was no ordinary one, coal black with a single snow white star on her forehead, she was destined to travel far across the seas and serve in the Australian army, taking part in one of history’s last great battle charges in 1917.

The story is told in simple, clear narrative; but the placement of prose throughout the book is either going to enhance or hinder the readers experience. Some will not like the style, but as it is pretty simple usage, I think it works well.

The story takes us on Midnight and Guy’s journey and it is a journey with a number of twists and turns which will keep the readers interest. The illustrations perfectly complement the story, they are beautifully drawn, realistic and the usage of colour fits totally with the era the story is set in and the different environments.

This book is aimed at the Y5/6 primary school age group, I think it could also find a home with a slightly older age group,the story is complemented with an exceptionally good author’s note and pictures at the back of the book which make it a good resource especially for Anzac Day.

This book would make a great gift for any child who loves horses. It would also find an ideal home in any school library, it would best be housed in the senior section of a primary school library.

All in all a very well researched, written and illustrated picture book.

Thank you to Walker Books for this gorgeous book.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon.

Midnight….The story of a light horse
by Mark Greenwood
illustrated by Frane Lessac
ISBN 9781921977718

Please see our Facebook page for a giveaway of this book.

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