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A Life Less Ordinary by John Hegglun

This self-published story written by John Hegglun is a wonderful tribute in memory of his father, Colonel Tris Hegglun OBE, ED.

Tris Hegglun (1915-1983) was a prominent local body politician in Marlborough. He represented New Zealand at the 1950 British Empire Games as a single scull rower. He held two National rowing titles. As a rugby player he was a front row forward or lock in All Black Trials and for Provincial rugby teams both before and after the war. He captained the Marlborough side many times. Hegglun eventually found work with the Blenheim Borough Council. His service towards creating the Civil Defence organisation in the South Island was outstanding.

This is a very absorbing read, with the dry wit (shared by both father and author in their writings) drawing out humour where least expected. The extracts from a soldier’s letters home during the conflict balance well with his diary entries. If you want to know what it was like in the Middle East, in 1939-45, read this book. Hegglun covered everything he encountered with a dry wit and intelligent perception.

This is a well written and refreshing biography of a typical New Zealander who served his country in war and then returned home to make a most valuable contribution to his community. It is cleverly divided into three sections: beginnings of settlement in the colony with some genealogy of the early family life, the interruption by World War 2 and finally part three outlining the difficulties of settling into life in Blenheim in peace time.

The book begins with a broad outline of the early colonial settlement of the province of Marlborough and profiles the genealogy of this particular family. A Remittance man exiled from Sweden and an ancestral Portuguese whaler adds to the family interest. Credit is given to the stalwart strength of the women who remembered the stories to pass down. Social history is intertwined with these stories which are well-illustrated with significant photos. There are references to other books which carry historical notes such as Marlborough Provincial History by AD McIntosh, as well as references found in Papers Past on line. This research creates a solid base for an interesting if brief history of the environment of Blenheim.

Once Private Tris Hegglun enters the army his world changes considerably. His intelligent letters home contain shrewd descriptions of the countryside. The excitement of preparing for battles, the boredom between them and visits to local villages are equally covered with his dry wit. The comradery of mate-ship was particularly poignant as men went into battle together. Hegglun was wounded in action in 1943.

Fortunately for this soldier he had been a prominent rower and provincial rugby representative so was called upon to represent the regiment from time to time which took him away from the front line. He also had time out as a boxer.

In the Libyan desert Hegglun said “the boys looked like they were at a Sunday School Picnic.” He could see three games of football and another of baseball. One crowd had a wireless (radio) which they hoped would tell them news of what was going on outside of Syria. Sport was vital to maintain moral.

Hegglun did suggest that “if the garden at home happens to be in any bad shape or form, don’t wait until I get home, get a gardener. I’ve just finished digging Syria with an army shovel and it has sort of made me a little tired of such an implement….”

The colloquial language, the descriptions of camp life and engagements with the enemy are clear and tell the New Zealand soldier’s story with eloquence. These letters are the best I have read, giving me the feeling of being “amongst it.” The breakout from Minqar Qaim was especially clear, with no indication of the site battle given except that the men were encircled by the enemy. Conflict was described honestly. The army years overseas created a stronger young man.

On his return Tris Hegglun found post war New Zealand changed also but he settled to raise a family in Blenheim and eventually created a valuable niche in the area. The management and organisational skills he learned during the war enabled him to maximise resources no matter how limited. He used his extensive connections to call on others as needed and repaid those requests when necessary. Marriage and family life included more sport but this was well balanced and productive. Hegglun still retained an interest in Territorial Army exercises and this is well covered in the final section. This man’s contribution to the development of Civil Defence in New Zealand is remarkable. His children continue to contribute to the welfare of the country.

I can highly recommend this book.

Reviewer: Sonia Edwards

Published by the Copy Press

$45.00 plus $5.00 postage anywhere in New Zealand.

Can be purchased from


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