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New Zealand's Great War

New Zealand, The Allies & The First World War
Edited by John Crawford & Ian McGibbon

Published by EXISLE
Hardback, illustrated, 675 pages annotated and indexed

Reviewed by Col (Rtd) Ray Seymour

WOW! What a book. If secondary schools and tertiary institutions don’t have this excellent volume on their shelves, then they are letting their students down. Likewise, if students of military history don’t have this reference book sitting prominently on their bookcase shelves, then you are depriving yourself of a top-class reference book that should be mandatory reading.

“New Zealand’s Great War – New Zealand, The Allies And The First World War” is a composition of 32 papers that were delivered to a conference entitled “Zealandia’s Great War” conducted in 2003. These papers were prepared and then delivered by a range of military historians, many of them New Zealanders, but some from overseas. Their in-depth research and their ability to provide immensely readable essays are a credit to all those involved. Their stories, however, are not inter-twined and, therefore, can be read as separate entities in themselves. Notwithstanding this, the 32 essays are grouped into four discrete categories – The Political, Social and International Perspectives – The Operational Context – Aspects of Service Overseas and at Home – and Home Front Perspectives. As a consequence, readers can either read this book to obtain a complete in-depth story of New Zealand’s involvement in that Great War, or they can be particular, and read just the paper that is of interest to them.

This composition leaves very few untold stories. This book tells the whys, the where’s and the what ifs related to World War I and it’s not all to do with military operations – in fact only a quarter of the book deals with these issues. Diverse subjects such as the role that religion played, both in the military and in the New Zealand community and how farming was seen as a possible saviour to New Zealand’s monetary woes to repay a burgeoning war debt are subjects in this book. Readers will also find chapters on the various women’s movements and the pressure they applied during the War years. But “New Zealand’s Great War” also tells the story of those 16.697 soldiers of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force who lost their lives in this War and of the thousands who died after discharge from war-related conditions. It tells the story how very few families in New Zealand were unaffected in some way by “this great bloodletting” and it tells a story that military historians, in the past, have for whatever reason, not told us. But a word of warning. This is also a book that, in the main, comprises academic papers and, therefore, is not one that can comfortably be read, curled up in one’s chair. Nor is it a book to find out about Granddad and what he did in the War.

Well done John Crawford and Ian McGibbon for editing this book. You have provided students of military and New Zealand history with an extraordinary compilation of information, compiled by excellent historians, on a subject that, even 91 years after Armistice Day, continues to be researched and analysed. A highly recommended reference book.



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