Saturday, 29 March 2008

WITH HONOUR Richard Wolfe

WITH HONOUR: Our Army, Our Nation, Our History Richard Wolfe, Viking/Penguin, 140 pages, hardback, NZ$59.95
ISBN 978-0-14-330335-0

This is a beautiful book creating a history of our land forces told through the Army Museum’s collection. Richard Wolfe has used his unusual combination of literary skills and museum display experience to produce an enjoyable large format volume with attractively presented illustrations. The text summarises the New Zealand military experience from taiaha to Steyr.

The story of land combat begins with Tumatauenga and tribal warfare, then proceeds through the New Zealand Wars to the South African War, the World Wars, Jayforce, Kayforce and Vietnam to engineering in Iraq and mine-clearing in Cambodia. Apt quotations from documents, letters and diaries add life to the story. The time-line is useful and the index is great.

The pictures are, as you would expect from the Queen Elizabeth II Army Memorial Museum’s collections, a fine array of military memorabilia - from housewife to pocket warmer - with excellent captions (except for the Kiwi Concert Party on p.129). Some items, like the sniper’s dummy-head decoy, are surprising. If you stare slightly cross-eyed at the stereopticon picture on p. 64, the NZ Mounted Rifles ride out of the dust in three dimensions. And there on p.155 are all nine of Charles Upham’s medals, which were stolen from the museum just four days after the book was published.

Meanwhile there is also a need for an illustrated history of the Army Museum itself; I cannot imagine a better suited author than Richard Wolfe.

Trevor Agnew

This review first appeared in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand on 22nd December 2007.

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