Fulbright New Zealand and the Fulbright New Zealand Alumni Association invite you to Glyn Harper’s seminar ‘Johnny Enzed, the New Zealand soldier in the First World War 1914-15′, held on 15 October in Palmerston North. For more information and to register, click here.
The story of New Zealanders at Gallipoli in the First World War is well known, but who were these soldiers? Where did they came from, what motivated them to enlist and follow through the training that led them to Gallipoli in 1915? Well-known military historian and Massey University Professor of War Studies Glyn Harper explores the experiences of Kiwi soldiers at this free Fulbright New Zealand seminar. Mr Harper received a 2010 Fulbright New Zealand Senior Scholar Award to research the Battle of Monte Cassino towards a book project, at Virginia Military Institute and the US Army War College. He is Professor of War Studies at Massey University in Palmerston North. Massey’s Project Manager of the Centenary History of New Zealand and the First World War and former teacher, he joined the Australian Army in 1988 and after eight years transferred to the New Zealand Army, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Glyn was the army’s official historian for the deployment to East Timor.
He is the author of numerous history books which include Kippenberger: An Inspired New Zealand Commander; In the Face of the Enemy: The complete history of the Victoria Cross and New Zealand; Dark Journey: Three Key Battles of the Western Front; Images of War: World War One: A Photographic Record of New Zealanders at War 1914-1918 and his most recent, before Johnny Enzed being The Battles of Monte Cassino. He has written ten children’s books, of which Roly the Anzac Donkey and Jim’s Letters are the most recently published.
When did you first become interested in WWI, what drew you to it?
I have always been interested in history. At high school we studied the causes and what happened at the Treaty of Versailles but we didn’t learn about what happened in the middle. So this whet my appetite to learn more about the war.
What made you want to explore the experiences of Kiwi soldiers?
I read the book Tommy by the late Richard Holmes. It was such an impressive book that I used it as a model for my latest book Johnny Enzed. The New Zealand soldier in the First World War 1914-1918.
You reviewed more than 2000 letters and diaries. How did you come across this material and gain access?
I researched at archives in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. A general appeal was made through the media. I am always humbled by the generosity of families who allow me, and trust me enough, to give me access to their family history. I also read many published accounts which have been largely forgotten.
What was the most common consistent thread of experience appearing in the letters and diaries of different soldiers?
The soldiers had much in common. Many wrote about the big adventure they were to embark on. They wrote about the training camps, the food and the sea voyage. As the war progressed they started writing about how they felt in combat; their loyalty mates (group cohesion). Their sadness when a mate was killed was a common thread and their longing to return to New Zealand was something they wrote about too.
What was the most surprising thing you read in these letters and diaries?
I was surprised at how articulate most of the men were. I learned many things including the importance of communal singing and their use of language. Their humour was often dark. They were very open about what they thought about the UK. In general, they were complimentary except about the British class system.
If you could describe a typical day for a New Zealand soldier in WWI, what would that look like (typical schedule, activities and diet for example)?
Up early and stand to; standing in the trenches; sleep when possible; sentry duty; coping with lice and rats; welcome hot meals; a tot of rum; evening stand down); fatigues at night.
What do you think New Zealanders today will gain from learning more about the experiences of Kiwi soldiers in WWI?
It’s important to appreciate and understand about NZ’s history. We are now seeing the confirmation of the distinct NZ identity. Good to learn about this pivotal part of our history that shaped, not just our country, but much of the rest of the world.
What are you working on next?
I am currently working on a book about El Alamein for an American University Press. I also write books for children which I write in my spare time.
To register for Mr Harper’s 15 October seminar in Palmerston North, please click here.