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Book Review: How We Saw the War by Ron Palenski


How We Saw the War by Ron Palenski

This is a remarkable book, especially if you have an interest in New Zealand history. Ron Palenski has taken newspaper clippings during World War II as the basis for this book so the result is the unique perspective of seeing the war ‘played out’ through 1940’s New Zealand media eyes. By doing so the book has an immediacy that prevents the subject matter from being dry or dusty – instead How We Saw the War bursts from the page with the blood, sweat and tears of real New Zealanders at war.

How We Saw the War details all the major battles and events that New Zealanders were involved in during the Second World War, but it also vividly brings to life the people at the centre of this upheaval. How We Saw the War details the exploits of our World War II heroes. Charles Upham is there, of course, but also Sergeant J.A. Ward who was the first New Zealander to win a V.C. in the war. (He climbed out on the wing of his bomber aircraft to put out a fire 13,000 feet over the North Sea, but afterwards referred to it as ‘our affair the other night’ in a letter to his father.) The book also honours the many men and women who didn’t receive any awards, but who fought bravely for their nation or helped the war effort at home.

The book details the role of women during the war, the fierce fighting of the Maori Battalion, conscription, life at Maadi Camp and at the various fronts, a supposed ‘mutiny’ and the effect on society (and Kiwi women) of having American soldiers stationed in New Zealand. With understated but engaging prose the reality of war is told – stoicism and great bravery, innovation and adaption to change, as well as the heartbreak, loss, injury and death that war inevitably brings.

In the preface of the book Ron Palenski says that the aim of the book was to give the reader ‘some idea of what it would have been to live through the war and read day by day of fighting in hitherto unheard of places, of fighting by people known to them, people they may or may not see again.’ In my opinion he succeeds admirably in his aim. This book is extremely readable and gives you a sense of what it would have been like to live during those extraordinary times. The book is also filled with fascinating newspaper clippings, posters, cartoons and photographs from the time.

#bookreviews #nonfiction

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