Book Review: Man of Iron, by Jock Vennell

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cv_man_of_ironI wasn’t expecting this to be such an engaging read, to be honest. My history reading more often takes the fictional or factional route but the Gallipoli tragedy has always caught my imagination, and more so since I recently found out that some (reasonably close ) family members fought and died there, and at least one of those was part of the Wellington regiment.

However my actual knowledge of the battles fought, and generally lost, on that peninsula was remarkably sketchy.

Jock Vennell has produced a comprehensive, compassionate and fascinating biography of the man who became Colonel Malone.

William Malone was born in Kent, and educated in England and France. He was keen to go into the army, but family circumstances meant that was unaffordable, and instead he did clerical work in London, but joined volunteer groups and eventually decided to join his brother Austin in New Zealand. He arrived in Taranaki and soon joined the Armed Constabulary. I was interested to note that he was part of the force which dealt so ignominiously with Parihaka, but I tried not to let this colour my judgment and continued reading!

He was of course young, enthusiastic and a settler in a “new” country, and also doubtless following orders as he does seem to have been a man who did things by the book, at least early in his career. A different person emerges during the nightmare times on Gallipoli.

He bought land and built a home for himself and his wife and children, and studied to become a lawyer – work at which he was competent and successful but which he did not enjoy. He stood – unsuccessfully – for government as a liberal, but it may be that his Catholicism was not in his favour.

As well as being a successful dairy farmer and lawyer, he seems to have had a penchant for study, and immersed himself in military strategy and tactics. At the time of the Boer war (he chose not to go) he was approached to lead the Stratford branch of the Volunteer force (which was effectively to become the New Zealand Expeditionary Force). Initially he was reluctant, but agreed and launched himself into training his company to become the best in the battalion. By the time war was declared in 1914, he had effectively achieved that, and it was a logical step for him to volunteer and to be given command of a battalion.

He was clearly a man who enjoyed war – in his diary he notes, ‘I leave a lucrative practice, a happy home, a brave wife and children without any hestitation. I feel I am just beginning to live.’

This kind of sentiment is harder to take these days, when the dangers of fervent nationalism are apparent all around us. However it was common then, and although I absolutely don’t agree with much of his opinion and motivation, it’s hard to fault his integrity, wisdom and commitment – particularly to his troops. He contradicted and disobeyed orders when he believed that they were wrong (quite often!) and earned the respect and love of his men.

Vennell deals thoroughly with the Gallipoli battles, and of course in particular with the travesty of Chunuk Bair. This is a book which – no matter your opinion of war – brings William Malone to life, and gives us some understanding of what drove our men to fight, and so often ultimately to die.

Pro patria mori (roughly, It is sweet and proper to die for the fatherland) is a sentiment I struggle with always, and when the country in question was not New Zealand but England, I struggle even more. However I do recommend this book. It’s fascinating and insightful.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Man of Iron: The extraordinary story of New Zealand WW1 hero Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone
by Jock Vennell
Published by Allen and Unwin
ISBN 9781877505713

 

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Book Review: The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front, by Matthew Wright

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cv_nz_experience_at_galliopiMatthew Wright is a prolific writer on many subjects not just military history. Many of this highly qualified historian’s works interpret various aspects of New Zealand’s social history. And it is this interpretative skill which underpins the author’s latest work The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front.

This book looks behind the actual events and discusses the why of not only the military and political actions and decisions related to the New Zealand’s soldiers’ involvement in World War 1, but also the social, political and economic of these decisions on New Zealand.

The work is not strictly a new book. As the author notes, it is an ‘updated and expanded second edition of Shattered Glory: The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front’.

Among the important The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front updates are new numbers of the New Zealand strength at Gallipoli, which were finally reported on in 2016.

Wright views the New Zealand casualties at Gallipoli, showing the impact of these casualties on New Zealand’s then small, conservative country which was still highly motivated by the jingoism of the time – for the Glory of King and Empire. He sees the idealism of the time ‘however naïve it may seem from a twenty-first century viewpoint’ as being a device with which the country coped with the ‘shattering losses’ of the Gallipoli campaign.

However, the impact on New Zealand while known by households throughout the country having empty chairs around the dinner table, were never properly recognised in official figures. This was apparently because of bad record keeping by an inexperienced and probably under-resourced New Zealand army administration. The New Zealand government did not establish a post World War 1 war history branch, as the Australian Government did – they did after the World War 2. A semi-official history of the Gallipoli Campaign by Fred Waite was put together in haste in 1919 before many of the documents were available. In a preface, equally written in haste by Gallipoli commander, General Sir Ian Hamilton, quoted a number of “total strength landed” as being 8,556 New Zealanders with total casualties of 7,447.

Wright comments that where Hamilton got his numbers from is not really known but they stuck as being official for decades. The impact that these figures had in establishing myth and legend around New Zealand’s sacrifice is discussed in length by Wright. Apparently it was in the 1980’s that historians began to question the Hamilton figures, but it was a long search before any acceptable level of accuracy was established.

In 2016, an interim report by New Zealand Defence Force Historian, John Crawford, suggested that many more kiwis had been involved in Gallipoli than the Hamilton figures had indicated. It was now thought that “probably” more than 17,000 New Zealanders fought at Gallipoli. While not claimed as a final figure, it is apparently changing the way historians are considering the New Zealand’s role. Wright does not seem to suggest that the casualty rate of 7,447 is in doubt. Proportionally, this is in line with the casualty rate of other nations involved. Thus, New Zealand had not, it seems, made an exceptional sacrifice after all, although obviously the social impact within New Zealand, is now seen as touching many more families than the Hamilton figures suggested.

The scale of the New Zealand effort on the Western Front was much greater than at Gallipoli. More than 90,000 kiwis were involved producing more than half of the casualties in all of New Zealand’s military history. And Wright notes that there was a greater toll if the death of wounded solders after the war and the lingering effects of gas were taken into account. The battles, the victories (Messines and Les Quesnoy) and the tragedies (Somme and Passchendaele) are detailed both in terms of the political and military preparations and the actual battles, but also from the personal level with excellent references to letters and diaries of officers and soldiers. Letters from home are also well used by Wright to allow an understanding of the impact of the hostilities back in New Zealand.

Following the penultimate chapter discussing whether New Zealand was in indeed a land fit for heroes to return, Wright finishes this book with a chapter entitled ‘Myth and Memory’. In it, he explores how ANZAC day, always regarded as the first expression of a New Zealand identity, has been ‘re-framed’ around 21st Century notions of the country’s self-identity with the battles of Gallipoli and on the Western Front: viewed in a different context from when they were fought.

We are now in the year of remembrance of the 1914-18 tragedy: the centenary anniversaries of Gallipoli, Messines and Passchendaele will be held in June and September with commemorative ceremonies throughout the country. Scores of kiwis will visit the commemorations at the battlefields in Europe. The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front explains why.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front
by Matthew Wright
Published by Oratia Publishing
ISBN: 9780947506193

Book Review: 1916: Dig for Victory, by David Hair

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cv_1916_dig_for_victoryAt 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
ISBN 978-1-77543-278-4

Book Review: The Chocolate Tin, by Fiona McIntosh

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cv_the_chocolate_tinAlexandra Frobisher is a modern thinking woman hoping for a career in England’s famous chocolate making town of York. But it is 1915, and Alex’s father states, “Association with the factory floor will not do – not for a Frobisher girl”.

Alex has turned down a number of ‘suitable’ marriage proposals much to her parents displeasure but she agrees to marry Matthew Britten-Jones, who promises to allow her the freedom she craves and even encourages her in her dream to establish a chocolate-making business.  With his family connections in the railway which transports chocolate from Rowntrees chocolate factory, Matthew enables her to be introduced to the management and taken on a factory tour.

They agree to take Alex on as a factory tour leader but before that, she get as a day working in the Chocolate Tin Room, where special tins of chocolate are being packed for sending to the troops in France. At the end of the morning packing tins Alex picked up a pencil and a scrap of paper and “scrawled a quick message. Come home safely. With love, Kitty” and placed the note in a tin. The author takes the reader to France where the note is found, and so begins and intriguing search for the writer of the note.

I loved this book, it is a real page-turner and anyone who enjoys a family saga with a strong female character will find the book a great read. It has a good balance of history and romance blended with some controversial secrets and mystery, all ingredients for a stimulating read.

Fiona McIntosh has written a number of books and her meticulous research into the story background has seen her become one of Australia’s most popular modern writers. In her acknowledgments at the rear of the book McIntosh thanks the historians who worked with her in York and also the battlefields in France helping her to “get the sense of place right for this book”.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Chocolate Tin
by Fiona McIntosh
Published by Michael Joseph
ISBN 9780143797067

Book Review: Gladys goes to War, by Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper

gladys goes to warAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

This book tells the true story of Gladys Sandford. Author Glyn Harper has cleverly incorporated this biographical story for children, while telling a story about an aspect of war through the eyes of Gladys.

Gladys was not like her sisters. She didn’t like sewing or baking or any other household chores that woman of that era were supposed to find rewarding. Gladys liked nothing better than tinkering with engines.

Gladys met and married William Henning, who loved cars as much as she did. He taught her how to drive. They set up a business in Auckland selling cars. The war came, and William enlisted. The women, on the other hand, were encouraged to stay at home knitting socks and balaclavas. Gladys wanted to be able to go to war like the men, so she enlisted with the New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood, sailing to Egypt, where William was stationed as a soldier.

This story follows Gladys’s exploits driving ambulances taking wounded to hospital in Giza, and even working as a cleaner when Williams’ battalion moved to France.  Gladys’s ability to drive ambulances was not initially needed, but one day they were short of drivers, so Gladys stepped in. The wounded were carefully transported by her to the nearest hospital, with the trips seeming at times to be endless.

This is a wonderful story about a courageous woman and a wonderful story to read to children. I read this book to Abby who has just started school. She listened with great interest, asking questions in the appropriate places. In today’s world, women staying home to look after children, sewing and cooking seems a very foreign concept. Gladys is an inspiration to all women and children alike as she defied the odds. When told she couldn’t do something, she did it anyway, proving that women can indeed do anything.

The illustrations by Jenny Cooper are superb and complement the story wonderfully.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Gladys goes to War
by Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143507208

Book Review: Remembering Gallipoli, by Christopher Pugsley & Charles Farrell

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The value of recorded oral history and the written word come together in Remembering Gallipoli: Interviews with New Zealand Gallipoli Veterans, by Christopher Pugsley and Charles Farrell.

The book is based on 131 surviving interviews made, mostly in 1982, of Gallipoli veterans as part of the research that was the backbone of the Maurice Shadbolt play Once on Chanuk Bair  This and other material have been used in other books including Men of Gallipoli, by Charles Farrell, as well as in a TVNZ documentary. There are also a number of other historians and scholars that have benefited from the material which is carefully archived in a number of places, including the National Army Museum at Waiouru.

This book has been carefully constructed, so that the memories of the men are linked to the various battles and other significant aspects of the Gallipoli campaign. Sometimes the comments from a single veteran will appear in different chapters because the individual will have memories of a number of different incidents. This allows for the whole campaign to be understood chronologically. Thus instead of an historian’s prose, the story unfolds through the words of veterans who were there, while staying in line with how the campaign developed and ended.

Authors’ notes are used to fill in detail of events, creating context for the veterans’ comments. Pugsley and Farrell also contribute to the background and context with their introduction. In particular Pugsley traces how he got involved with the history of the Gallipoli campaign while still a serving officer in the Army.

Photographs are well used in this book, very often adding to the personal perspectives of veterans’ accounts.

Much of the collective memory is harrowing, some of it humorous in a black kiwi sort of way. But the real quality of this book is that it allows us 100 years later to “ hear the voices” that were at Gallipoli.

Review by Lincoln Gould

Remembering Gallipoli: Interviews with New Zealand Gallipoli Veterans
by Christopher Pugsley and Charles Ferrall
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739919

Book Review: Glory, by Rachael Billington

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Mozart once referred to Opera as a conversation with many people all speaking at once, and yet all are perfectly understood. In this, the Centenary year of the Gallipoli campaign, there will be many conversations, many stories and many points of view. As I write this, Kiwis are joining in mass commemoration of those who fell in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign of 1915. And, no doubt we’ll be involved in further recognitions of the tragic losses that were to come thereafter. This is the year of the Great War, after all.

Into this space, veteran author Rachael Billington adds her own take with an epic tale of relationships, love and heroism at Gallipoli, from the British standpoint. It’s easy to look at the campaign only with ‘black-tinted’ glasses but in fact Britain lost nearly 73,485 troops, nearly 5 ½ times that of the ANZACs. The Anglo angle in this book is prominent. Viewers of Downton Abbey will recognise the common themes of egalitarianism over class and the betrayal of the patriotic dream when the great adventure turns horrific very quickly.

Interwoven with the gruesome details of on-the-ground battles are the fates of a promising lawyer, Arthur and his girlfriend Sylvia. Arthur is almost immediately flung into the fray, unprepared and naïve. He survives by disobeying orders and befriending an intelligence officer aboard the landing ship, leading him to an alternative fate. At home Sylvia sits in her ‘perfect’ world on the estate, awaiting the titbits, from her correspondents, that tragically float back from ANZAC cove.

Another key figure is Dorset country boy Fred Chaffey, who is literally flung out of the first landing boat onto the shores of the peninsular by the first page. He spend three days sheltering behind the dying, pinned down by snipers and isolated from his unit. Eventually, he becomes a runner for an Australian captain and spends much of the book travelling between like landmarks like Quinn’s Post, Chunuk Bair and Shrapnel Alley whilst encountering a raft of personalities from across the Empire, and of course our friend Arthur. Their stories will eventually intertwine like some mad helix of fate.

Supporting the story are a host of other players, including real personalities from the time such as Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton, Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean, the blundering fool behind the decision to dig in, rather than retreat, when troops were mistakenly landed at the wrong cove. He’s described as a man with a “silly voice and even sillier habit of writing in his diary – filled with long Greek quotations” and, “far worse, his manner of giving commands as if they were invitations.” It shows Billington has done her homework. There is even a selected bibliography in the back.

“My grandfather died at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, on August 21st 1915, she writes on her website. “(Yet) my grandmother …continued to believe that he would emerge from a Turkish hospital or prison camp.” In a sense the inspiration behind Glory was a mix of that story and the new horrors from her WWII childhood. “Publishing Glory is an emotional business. Naturally people are interested in my grandfather’s story…his heroic and pointless death is bad enough. But for me it exemplifies the muddled thinking that surrounded both the idea of the campaign and its execution.”

In layer after layer, Billington deftly presents this in her book and one can’t help finishing with a real sense of sadness that the whole thing was such a futile waste. New Zealanders will come together this year, along with the world to commemorate this most deft act of incompetence and horror. If we learn one thing from Glory it will be to thoroughly question the actions of our leaders and challenge their right to lead, because lest we forget, they are as fallible as anyone else. Glory is an epic tale, thought-provoking and slightly familiar. It doesn’t cover new ground but, like a good movie, it will cover ground and leave you wiser for it.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Glory 
by Rachael Billington
Published by Orion
ISBN 9781409156697