Humour, heartbreak of war

June 25, 2014

An Awfully Big Adventure: NZ WWI veterans tell their stories, by Jane Tolerton (Penguin, RRP $45):

Journalist Jane Tolerton helped set up the World War I Oral History Archive back in 1987, and using those interviews, she has compiled a fantastic book.

It’s hard to imagine just what it was like to be a New Zealand soldier during World War I, but these stories, told in the soldiers’ own words, offer an insight into what these young men experienced.

The stories are presented in chronological order, with interviews from 80 veterans pulled apart and put back together to tell the story of the war and their experiences.

The youngest of the veterans, Sydney Stanfield says he expected joining up would be “a great adventure, and it’d be real fun. And so it was – up to a point. Past that point it wasn’t funny at all”.

He was just 15 years old when he joined up and spent two and a half years on the Western Front before the end of the war.

Frank Leslie Hunt was the oldest veteran interviewed and tells of being rescued from a pile of dead men on the beach at Gallipoli after a friend noticed his foot twitch.

There is humour and heartbreak in every story and it’s incredibly moving to read these accounts of what was a hugely important time in our history.

Jillian Allison-Aitken

I come from the other land down under, where men are men, and sheep are nervous. I'm a sub-editor and in the past have been a proof-reader, news editor and web editor. I am also an ex-columnist, and book and software reviewer for the local daily newspaper.I still read. A lot. And surf the web. Also a lot.You'll find a little about both of those pastimes here, and on By George.

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