The First World War Diary of Brigadier-General Herbert Hart
Published by EXISLE, RRP $50.00
Edited by John Crawford
Reviewed by Col (Rtd) Ray Seymour
If you want to learn more about New Zealand’s involvement in World War I in a most readable and exciting diary, cleverly edited by John Crawford, then you must read “The Devil’s Own War”.
Whilst this diary really concerns itself about the wartime experiences of Brigadier-General Herbert Hart, it’s also about Hart the game hunter; the cyclist; the Boer War veteran; the staunch member of the RSA; the Rotarian; the Lodge member; the father; the farmer; the Administrator in Samoa; the Assistant Director of Graves Registration and the Deputy Controller of the Imperial [now Commonwealth] War Graves Commission. It’s an impelling account of one of New Zealand’s most successful commanders in WWI.
This diary provides readers with such a wealth of knowledge. Naturally it commences with the long sea journey from New Zealand and provides an insight into New Zealand’s first involvement against the Turks in their half-hearted attempt to cross the Suez Canal. But then it gets into the build-up to the landings at ANZAC Cove on 25 April 1915, and provides a great insight into how this man, who on the death of Lieutenant Colonel Malone, took command of that brave Wellington Infantry Battalion and continued to lead it with distinction. Readers will also learn about Paddy – the only individual in that Battalion who didn’t become accustomed to the constant fighting – but then, Paddy was their much-loved mongrel serving as the Regimental pet! Readers will also learn that despite the trials and losses that the Battalion went through whilst on Gallipoli, not one man wanted to withdraw from that region, and that when they did, just how successful that dangerous operation was.
From Gallipoli, with Hart being one of the last to leave, the diary follows him into France and saw him taking up a position at Armentieres. It’s at Armentieres that Hart describes a raid by 181 of his men into an enemy held position – only six returned unharmed. After Armentieres it’s into the line on the Somme; then Messines and finally, Passchendaele, and during these decisive battles, Hart finds himself being promoted and taking command of various New Zealand Brigades.
This well kept and informative diary tells a great story as seen through the eyes of a fine warrior. Not only will readers get a good “insiders” report on the exploits of our soldiers in that Great War that was to end all wars, but they will also learn of detailed accounts of the tremendous sacrifices that were made by New Zealanders. Readers will also learn about the German artillery gun that could propel a 4.5 inch shell out to a distance of 125 kilometres [Wellington to Foxton]; the impact of gas being fired into the lines and the millions of rats that invaded the battlefields – and as only Kiwi soldiers can do, the invention of a new sport called “rat fishing”.
This is the book that will tell you all you probably need to know to engender your quest for knowledge on World War 1. It’s a high quality publication that is well supported by numerous photographs and maps. The book is highly recommended.