Soldiers’ letters bring home horror

October 28, 2011
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Letters From Gallipoli: New Zealand Soldiers Write Home, edited by Glyn Harper (Auckland University Press, RRP $49.95):

This latest book by Glyn Harper is one that brings home the trauma, hardship, heartache and horror of living through, and with, a war.

Glyn Harper is the Professor of War Studies at Massey University and has already written and edited a comprehensive collection of books on New Zealand’s military history. This time he has moved away from the stories of the wars, the large battles, the victories and the losses. Instead, we get a fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who lived it first hand, via a collection of letters written by New Zealand soldiers to their families at home.

Gallipoli was a huge milestone in this country’s history, marking what many believe was something of a coming of age for our small but feisty nation.

We stood shoulder to shoulder with our allies and showed a level of bravery and loyalty that made a mark.

I’m sure we all know the big- picture story of what happened at Gallipoli but many of us won’t know about the day-to-day life of the men who fought there, or about the up-close trauma they experienced there.

These letters are compelling reading. I expected to dip into the book and skim through the parts that grabbed my attention but instead I read it cover to cover in little more than a day.

Professor Harper lets these men speak for themselves, with their letters telling the story of the campaign. Most of the 190 letters were previously unpublished, and they came from a pool of more than 600 collected from archives, newspapers and family collections.

His editing seems to have been a light touch, with a few illustrations and biographical notes to give a human face to the words we are reading.

Some of the men writing home in these letters suffered major injuries but were still more concerned with the stress levels of their loved ones than their own problems.

One of the most touching parts of the book comes in the final letter, which relates to the first letter in the book: a chatty and excited letter home of Private Oswald Mark Norris as he prepared to embark on what he no doubt saw as something of an adventure. Sadly, that final letter is the confirmation of the final resting place of Private Norris, who died on the first day of the landing.

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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