Sports journalist makes good job of a difficult task

Oliver Riddell reviews How We Saw the War.

HOW WE SAW THE WAR: 1939-45 Through New Zealand Eyes
Ron Palenski
Hodder Moa, $59.99, hbk

Among the flood of books published to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the start of World War 2 is Hodder Moa's giant-size coffee-table book on the years 1939-45, as seen through New Zealand eyes.

This is neither a history nor an anthology, although it contains elements of both.

It is a series of vignettes on notable New Zealand personalities involved in the war and on notable events in which New Zealand participated.

It is written by a leading sports journalist and one whose style suits the format.

All the prominent names are here - Lieutenant-General Bernard Freyberg, Flying Officer "Cobber" Kain, Air Chief Marshal Keith Park, double-VC Captain Charles Upham, World War 1 hero and Christian pacifist Ormond Burton, Prime Minister Peter Fraser.

These and others are not even potted biographies but they do give the flavour of the men and their times.

Also featured are important actions in which New Zealanders were involved - the Achilles and the Battle of the River Plate, Fighter Command and the Battle of Britain, the invasion of and retreat from Greece and Crete, the battle of el Alamein, the Solomon Islands campaign, the battle for Tunisia, the invasion of and campaigns in Italy.

None of this would make much sense without the political or diplomatic background so, without overloading the narrative, Palenski sketches New Zealand's place in the world.

Without many cards to play in their dealings with the great powers, the country's leaders played a surprisingly significant role in the course of the war and in shaping the postwar world.

But the most interesting part of the book is what it was like to be a New Zealander.

The moods of fear of German aggression, of terror at the approach of the seemingly unstoppable Japanese, of elation, of depression, and of being fed up, are all chronicled.

The book is liberally and interestingly illustrated.

Quotes from letters and newspapers are sprinkled through it, as are facsimiles of cables and newspaper headlines.

This was a difficult task and has been well done.

- Oliver Riddell is a Wellington writer.


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