Soldiers’ snaps bring war home

November 10, 2014
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Anyone attending Anzac Day services will be left in no doubt that there is growing interest among younger Kiwis in our military history.

Each year, it seems there are more and more families at these services and there is a new-found appreciation for the sacrifices made by so many all those years ago.

Two books published last year take a closer look at our military history.

Images of War: NZ and the First World War in Photographs,

by Glyn Harper and the National Army Museum (HarperCollins, RRP $100):

Glyn Harper has already produced quite a comprehensive selection of military books but this visual record of Kiwi soldiers at war is his most impressive offering to date.

Part scrapbook, part photo album, part narrative, this collection gets the reader up close and personal with the life of the New Zealand soldier during World War 1.

Despite being forbidden, many soldiers had cameras tucked away in their kitbags in 1914 and these photographs were taken by them as they went about their day-to-day business: sometimes mundane, sometimes terrifying, always fascinating.

Most of these photographs haven’t been published before now and many are an intimate glimpse of a time and experience that is hard to fathom for those of us fortunate enough to have never experienced war.

Originally published in 2008, this book has now been redesigned as a stunning large-format hardback. It is a coffee table book, but not in the arty-farty sense that we have come to expect from that style of book: it’s big and bulky but not pretentious. It is simply page after page of visual history, showing us not only the horrors or war, but also the camaraderie.

Just over 800 photographs were selected from the 25,000 initially submitted, and they have been carefully chosen to depict each theatre of the 1914-18 war, including Gallipoli, Sinai-Palestine and the Western Front.

They range from graphic and confronting – some featuring wounded soldiers whose treatment marked the early days of plastic surgery – to poignant and heart-warming.

New Zealand and the First World War: 1914-1919,

by Damien Fenton (Penguin, RRP $75):

In what is obviously a labour of love, historian Damien Fenton has produced a visually stunning record of New Zealand’s involvement in World War 1, which is a perfect companion to Images of War.

Fenton has already shown is passion for New Zealand’s military history with his earlier book on the New Zealand Army, but this book is truly amazing.

Following our story from the outbreak of war in 1914 until demobilisation in 1919, he has packed the book with 50 key incidents during the ensuing years.

And while the words are important, he has made the entire history even more memorable by including more than 500 images, many of them previously unpublished.

Slide this book out of its slip cover, and you know you are about to view something special. Presented almost as a personal scrapbook, there are fold-out maps, posters, booklets, postcards and much more, all designed to draw you in and give you a feel for just what it was like during those turbulent years.

I found I kept going back to this book, looking again at those visual details that served to bring the story of New Zealand’s war to life.

And the experiences of those at home is every bit as interesting as the experiences of those overseas.

This is a gorgeous book.

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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