In Featherston where I live, a debate is underway as to how best to site and build a memorial to remember the tens of thousands of First World War soldiers who were trained in the camp near the village and tramped over the Rimutaka Hill, to ship out to the First World War. (The march is pictured below).
Recently I was approached by a friend’s granddaughter and her friend, both local high school students, for help with a history project based on two local soldiers, trained in the camp, each of whom died in Flanders. I have a lot of books on the war.
These current events are just two of what will be hundreds of acts of remembrance during the WW1 commemorations – but they are local and close to the students and villagers engaged, even if they themselves have no direct connections to the war through forebears. But each is different from the other.
It is the many different facets of remembrance that makes How We Remember, so interesting and worth reading. Editors Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts commissioned an eclectic group of writers – playwrights, mainstream authors, journalists, broadcasters and historians to write 20 essays.
The essays, all well written, take many different narrative forms of remembrance which together form a kaleidoscope of multiple reflection on New Zealander’s collective and individual experiences of the war and its aftermath. The book manages to reflect many of New Zealand’s social structures and mores of the time and the effects thereon by the war.
It is difficult to single out any of the essays, because they are all worth reading. However, in order to demonstrate the diversity of experiences, it is worth noting Christopher Pugsley’s tears when he first visited Gallipoli – a place that he has been so instrumental in implanting a sense of respect and nationhood into modern New Zealanders. This contrasts with Paul Diamond’s history of the much honoured, then disgraced and then posthumously rehabilitated gay mayor of Whanganui, Charles Mackay and his blackmailer Walter D’Arcy Cresswell. Jane Tolerton reveals difficulties behind the recording of veteran’s personal histories, exploding perhaps the myth “they didn’t want to talk about it”. And James R Broughton and Monty Souter reflect on the Maori experience of WW1 which includes pride and glory, but also prejudice and injustice.
I have grown up, like so many New Zealanders, with the dictum that New Zealand forged a sense of nationhood within the First World War battles in Gallipoli and the Western Front that lives on. Many who fought though, while from New Zealand, were born in other countries, particularly Britain. Jane Tolerton writes, that questions were asked of veterans as to ”whether they felt more like New Zealanders, as opposed to British, after Gallipoli. They gave us the clear response that they were New Zealanders already, and proud of it – but also proud of being British”.
The students of Featherston got top marks for their “memorials” of two soldiers. The debate on how best to remember the Featherston camp and those who marched from there to war, will eventually be resolved. And many readers of this book will either have there own personal memories broadened by these essays or gain a fascinating insight into what all this WW1 commemorative stuff is all about.
Reviewed by Lincoln Gould, CEO, Booksellers NZ
How We Remember Them, New Zealanders and the First World War
Edited by Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts
Published by Victoria University Press