Box of letters leads to story of town’s war experience

Patearoa at War, by Jim Sullivan (Rock and Pillar Press, RRP $34):

Like so many of the best Kiwi projects, this book started out as a friendly chat at the pub.

Patearoa locals Beryl and Alan Reid told author Jim Sullivan they had a box of letters written by soldiers to Alan’s aunts during World War I. The next day, Sullivan began putting them together in a book that would document the effect of the war on Patearoa’s citizens: those who served and those at home.

Sadly, Alan died in November last year, just as the book was beginning to fall into place, but other locals contributed letters, diaries and memories to complete the history.

The author noted he thought the title might be cause for a chuckle and I must admit that I had a wee laugh to myself as I read the title, envisaging the quiet Central Otago town of Patearoa declaring war on Middlemarch or storming the strongholds of St Bathans.

While this is specifically Patearoa, the experiences will no doubt have been shared by small towns throughout the country.

The inclusion of a glossary is a nice touch and while words like cobber and crook might be well enough known already I did learn a new phrase: “Head like a 40-shilling pot”, meaning a bit under the weather. Or crook.

Available from Books and Things Ranfurly, University Book Shop; or Rock and Pillar Press, 38 Falcon St, Kaikorai, Dunedin for $39.50 (including postage).

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