by Ian McGibbon
Published by Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd., in association with the Corps of Royal New Zealand Engineers. Price $39.95.
Reviewed by Dr Stephen Clarke
The foundations of the RSA were laid in 1916 by one Kiwi Sapper returned from Gallipoli, Captain Donald Simson, and saved from early financial ruin as a result of the efforts of another, Sapper Horace Moore-Jones, whose tour of his famous watercolours of Gallipoli in 1917 provided the fledging Association with much needed revenue as well as publicity. Moore-Jones's work at Gallipoli is recalled in the very readable Kiwi Sappers.
McGibbon is New Zealand's pre-eminent military historian and Kiwi Sappers has the hallmark of his meticulous research and well-balanced scholarship. As he notes in the preface, it is not intended to be the last word but a general account to commemorate the centenary of the formation of the Corps on 15 October 2002 (a detailed history is planned for the future). Notwithstanding his modest caveat, the author has packed much into 174 pages.
While the Royal New Zealand Engineers Corps came into existence in 1902, McGibbon necessarily details the nineteenth century origins of the Corps in his opening chapter. There follows chapters on New Zealand Engineers' efforts in the First World War, Second World War (with separate chapters on the Mediterranean and Pacific Theatres), post-WWII period, and a final chapter examining the wider focus of the Corps in New Zealand and overseas.
The author succinctly reminds us that the Corps has not operated in isolation and that changing technological, social, military and international developments have all had their impact. One of the significant themes of the history is the gradual shift from reliance on citizen-soldiery to professional regulars, one shared by the armed forces in general but accentuated in a Corps which requires considerable technical expertise.
The subtitle 'Century of Service' is certainly appropriate as what struck this reviewer is the considerable work of the Corps in the wider community. In New Zealand, the Corps activities have included providing assistance during civil emergencies as well assisting non-emergency projects, such as the construction of the Queen Elizabeth II Army Memorial Museum, Waiouru. Meanwhile, overseas assistance has ranged from development projects in the South Pacific to mine clearance in Asia, Africa and south-east Europe, and as part of peacekeeping missions to Bougainville and East Timor.
The story is lavishly illustrated, with over 180 images, providing a visual reminder of the vast array of operations and projects undertaken by the Corps over the last century. The inclusion of insightful personal accounts supplements the general account. The book also includes a number of useful appendices, most importantly the Corps' 'Roll of Honour'.
Congratulations to the author for not only providing a concise and very readable overview of the Corps but for laying an excellent foundation for the full account that this reviewer looks forward to with much anticipation.