Friday, 8 December 2006

A Fair Sort of Battering: New Zealanders Remember the Italian campaign, 2004

A FAIR SORT OF BATTERING: New Zealanders Remember the Italian Campaign, edited by Megan Hutching, HarperCollins/ New Zealand Ministry of Culture and Heritage, Auckland, New Zealand, 2004, 280 pages, paperback, NZ$39.95. ISBN 1-86950-505-0.

Because New Zealand is such a small country, there is an excellent chance that every reader will find a personal link in this collection of memories of the fighting in Italy. I found that I had known three of the thirteen narrators, including Doug Park, a former Fleet Air Arm pilot, who confirmed my impression that the interviewer had been well-informed and searching.
She lured me into saying things that I hadn’t really intended to mention,” said Doug, looking rather pleased at having been lured. His only guilty secret seems to have been singing “some dreadful songs”, while most of the soldiers are frank about their rather minor looting. (“Entrepreneurial zeal” is a graceful euphemism.)

Megan Hutching, who did the majority of the interviews, has checked, edited and pruned carefully but she has also succeeded brilliantly in allowing each person’s individual voice to be heard. Those interviewed include soldiers from the 2nd Division, as well as a nurse, a padre, a sailor, and one of Lady Freyberg’s famous Tuis.
Whether rescuing the wounded, fighting in tanks, or clearing mines, each person gives a vivid picture of both the brief excitements and the more mundane routines of their particular war, as the Kiwis moved from the Western Desert to Trieste. The highlight has to be Gordon Johnston’s wooing of his Italian bride Luciana; now both in their 80s, they still show a “mutual zest for life.”
The recordings used in this book were certainly timely. Gordon Slatter and Jack Somerville, whose recordings were made in the 1990s, died before the book went to press, while Rae Familton died in March. A Fair Sort of Battering captures the pride and the pain of each person’s experience. With its companion volumes about POWs and Crete, it sets a high standard for military reminiscences.

Trevor Agnew

This review first appeared in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand in April 2004.

Doug Park died in 2005.

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