How We Remember Them, New Zealanders and the First World War, Edited by Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts

Now available in bookshops.cv_how_we_remember

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.marching_over_the_rimutaka+hill

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 1200px-Flag_of_New_Zealandcountries, 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
ISBN 9780864739353


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: 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

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