Post by Dave Homewood on May 4, 2013 16:41:30 GMT 12
Are there any autobiogarphies written by New Zealanders who served in and focussed on the First World War?
I know of the book Ways and Byways of a Singing Kiwi" by Ernest McKinley - because I heard this read out on National Radio some years ago. He was the tenor of the original Kiwi Concert Party in WWI.
I also know that Reg Kingsford, a kiwi pilot from Nelson, wrote two books about his WWI flying experiences, though i have never seen either sadly. An extract does appear in Jim Hopkins' book on flying and it's great.
But what other WWI autobiographies by kiwis are out there? Any?
Post by errolmartyn on May 4, 2013 19:54:10 GMT 12
Not an autobiography but a vivid documentary-novel is Robin Hyde's (pseudonym of Iris Guiver Wilkinson) aptly titled Passport to Hell. It is a remarkable no-holds barred account, especially given that it was written by a woman and published in 1936 when WWI soldiers autobios rarely revealed anything like the full extent of the horrors they had gone through.
"Passport to Hell. Passport to Hell is the novel in which the influence and friendship of John Lee can be most felt.-It is Robin Hyde's strongest "personal protest" about injustice, suffering, and society's intolerance of deviation from mid-Victorian morality. Win- page 55 ston Rhodes has spoken of her "groping for the scent of the people", searching for some living realisation of the brotherhood of man, of the lost spirit of community. In this first novel, these gropings are defined by negatives, for she tells the story of Starkie, outcast, rebel, misfit, hero, without permitting herself any of the direct appeals to her readers' sympathy which mar the effectiveness of John Lee's onslaught in Children of the Poor.
Passport to Hell is a fictional reconstruction of the life of James Douglas Stark, bomber, Fifth Regiment, N.Z.E.F. In her author's note Robin Hyde explains, "This book is not a work of fiction. I have related its incidents and the circumstances under which they happened, as Starkie told them to me ... At his own wish I have given the names of Starkie's family circle correctly, and those of the little group of friends who during the war were leagued together as 'Tent Eight'." A field chaplain, two generals and two New Zealand politicians are correctly named, otherwise the names are fictitious.
This novel, as well as its sequel Nor the Years Condemn, is remarkable for its picture of the tough male world which Robin Hyde could know of only by hearsay, and reconstruct only with imaginative sympathy. Readers will instantly think of parallels from the literature of World War II, such books as Brave Company, For the Rest of Our Lives, A Gun in my Hand, and so on.
The book begins with her description of how she met Starkie, sent to interview him in his little Auckland slum, with his motherless coffee-coloured children whom he refused to part with to the welfare officer. Speaking of the problem of the returned soldier in every country, she notes his desperate desire to fit in again, to "go forward and die" as one of the most valuable things remaining in our world. Then she tells Starkie's story from its beginnings. As the book is at present out of print, here is a brief outline. Starkie was born in Invercargill in 1898, son of a Delaware Indian from Great Bear Lake, who had come to the goldfields. His mother was Spanish. With his coal-black hair and bronze skin, the father "stalked through the psychological fences" of racial troubles "like some mahogany Moses". There follows a vivid re-creation of Starkie's rebellious childhood, his hatred of school—six months was the longest he lasted at any— and his spell at the Burnham Industrial School for the reform of incorrigibles, when he was twelve. He asked to go to sea, was put on a coal boat trading to the West Coast, was maltreated, deserted at Lyttelton, ran for it into the interior, was succoured and given temporary sanctuary in a back-country sheep station. After some time on the run, with casual jobs in woolstore or on wharf, he spent a year in Invercargill gaol marked down as a "Red Indian Savage". Released at sixteen, homeless and unloved, he enlisted. Life at Trentham, and his mates of Tent Eight, offered him companionship for the first time. On the voyage to Egypt he was in more trouble, page 56 for Army discipline rubbed him raw. Robin Hyde's account of his war experiences at Gallipoli and in France, on London leave, in military prison, or in the trenches, is a powerful achievement. When, as in the chapter entitled Court-Martial, Starkie is made to speak for himself, the narration is slangy, jerky, and natural, suggesting most effectively the man he was.
This is a violent book, savage, full of anger at injustice. Yet, unlike John Lee, Robin Hyde leaves her tale to carry its own message. Starkie goes all through the war, being shipped home at Christmas 1918, bringing nothing with him "but his tattooed captaincy stars, a record of nine courts-martial, a total of 35 years' penal servitude in military sentences—all cancelled for gallantry in action".
Thus Starkie returns, aged exactly twenty, to take up civilian existence. "Everything—life even—is field punishment." No moral is drawn, except what may be implied in the final words of the story:
" '. . . Do you know your charge?'
'Charged with being Starkie, sir; and God knows what else.'""
Author: Swift to the Sky – New Zealand’s Military Aviation History Author/publisher: For Your Tomorrow - A record of New Zealanders who have died while serving with the RNZAF and Allied Air Services since 1915 & A Passion For Flight - New Zealand aviation before the Great War. Publisher of Gp Capt C M Hanson’s By Such Deeds - Honours and Awards in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, 1923-1999
Sorry - not of a pilot... but my mother wrote a book "My Dear Chick" of Len Wilton, Masterton, her father, who managed sets of horses at the front line moving canons around usually overnight, in Belgium. Quite horrific the stories from the front in the swamps.
He wrote his letters back to his then girlfriend, Ilma McLachlan also of Masterton, and she wrote her diaries every day still working on her family farm. My mother and brother put the letters and diary excerpts together and some local background material from local records and the Turnbill Library. They also managed a bit of family hereditary on both sides and added photos that were around. Len was held back in England in rehabilitation from scurvy and general ill health for 9 months.
A year or so after he returned, they married and also bought part of the McLachlan farm where they lived until he passed of Parkinsons Disease - even before my father asked his hand in marriage to the youngest daughter... my mother. He became a JP and was well respected.
My GF Len's letters were his own... and description of the war he fought in were his words, including spellers... that is autobiographical in my terms. The whole book is not his own but it spins a true and real love story as well - of Len and his wife to be - in her words too.
Post by Dave Homewood on May 5, 2013 10:08:06 GMT 12
Yes I see what you're saying, but a big difference between a collection of letters from the front lines compiled by someone else, and an actual autibiography, is the writer of the latter is not restrained by the censorship of letters, and is able to add a lot more detail in hindsight. He can also write abotu stuff thta he would never have dreamed of placing into letters. I personally see the two styles of books as different yet related genres.
Three Years with the New Zealanders is a WWI memoir by Lt-Col. C.H. Weston and can be read online here
Lt. Col. C.B. Brereton of the 12th (Nelson) Company, Cant'y Infantry Battalion, also wrote a lively memoir called Tales of Three Campaigns . This covers his experiences at the Battle of the Suez Canal, Gallipoli and the Somme. Unfortunately this book is rare and mostly only held by collectors. Inter-library loan might be an option.
The Devils Own War. This is the diary of Brigadier General Hebert Hart. Edited by John Crawford but not changed. When I bought this book I wondered whether it may be hard going but it is the opposite. It may not be your idea of an autobiography Dave but if it isn't I don't know what is! All the words are his, nothing has been changed. All Crawford has done is to write a Forward, a Preface, an Introduction and a Conclusion. The diary starts on 12 August 1914 and finishes 18 May 1919.
Hart had an extremely interesting life. He served as an enlisted man in the Boer War and travelled widely afterwards. He qualified as a lawyer, cycled through the North and South Islands in 1910 and 1911. In 1907 he was in the custom of the time elected as an acting lieutenant in the newly formed Carterton Rifle Volunteers. In 1911 he was promoted to Captain in what was by then the Territorial Force. In 1912 he was promoted to Major and was by a considerable margin the youngest Captain or Major in his battalion.
During the war he served in Gallipoli where he was badly wounded and sent to England. When he recovered he returned to Gallipoli. He served through the war including the great battles of the Somme and Passchendaele. He returned to New Zealand with the rank of Brigadier General.
He has a distinguished post war career including Administrator of Western Samoa.
This is an extremely interesting account of what it was like to be a soldier in WW1. There isn't any evidence that the diary was in any way censored and it is full of detail including what it was like in England during his times there. Like many others his attitude changed from being gung ho to only wanting the war to finish and get home.
It seems he kept a detailed diary for most of his life and I would love to read the rest of it!