Sonia Edwards has a QSM for services to historical research and the community and she talks to NZ Booklovers about her latest book.
Tell us a little about Valour Remembered: Kawe Mate WW2, Volume One.
Valour Remembered – Kawe Mate – WW2 is a way of remembering the men who are named on all the local memorials in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. The Honour Rolls appear in Halls, on Marae, in Churches and on Cenotaphs.
The book outlines each man’s profile so that they will have an identity when the 2039 centenary comes. With few graves, no funerals or tangihanga, the families were doubly bereft when family members were lost. Kawe Mate is the carrying of the message of a loved one forward.
There had to be a cut off number for printing and there so many Fallen that I had to create a second volume. Volume One covers more than one hundred troops from Opotiki to Raukokore. There is an equal number of Fallen troops from Whakatane to Matata and inland to Ruatoki, so Volume two will be their stories.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired to write this book because the WW1 volume (2015) was well received and someone commented that they did not know much about the WW2 men either. Sadly it is ten years too late to reach the men who served and returned, but families remember. Some of the children of those who died know little about their fathers. Grieving parents and wives got on with life and did not talk about their loss. Many wives remarried. Family stories are important. The sacrifice these men made ensured the freedom of choice we have today.
What research was involved?
The research was as interesting as the writing. The New Zealand Defence Force Archives Personnel made me very welcome for a week or two, giving me access to records for 300 men, all of which I was able to copy. It has taken seven years to put them in order. Where possible I contact families who astoundingly helpful. Internet is somewhat helpful but cell phones are limiting. Old telephone books would have been useful. Reading every available tale about the experiences of soldiers gave me access to snippets where my men were mentioned specifically. This is about the ordinary rank and file men, no women, few officers. Family history and social background research allows me to visualize the loss to each community. I have an extensive military library. Bibliographies have given me many new sources to read. Librarians inter loan books are great.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
I write every day, sometimes all day. In the beginning I was writing all night but I am too old to do that now. I have few interruptions but resent them sometimes. Housework days are when my printer runs out of ink. I am old fashioned enough to want everything in print to assess. I lose articles in the computer. I have built up records for each man with notes attached as facts are found. 40 lever arch files? Most have an image to identify the individual.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Two songs: Māori Battalion song. And “ We’ll Meet again….” By Vera Lynn. Possibly to be more correct, a hymn like Psalm 23. Or Abide with Me.
What did you value the most about writing Valour Remembered?
The one thing I have valued most is the contact with family members who did not know their father, uncle, or grandfather. They treasure the memories of their lost ones and are pleased to have them remembered in whatever form. I have only had one adverse reply in all my research.
You have been awarded a QSM, can you tell us a little about this?
I was awarded the QSM for service to the community and for research. I am a member of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists so have always had an interest in social history. I was raised at Whitianga and have lived in Opotiki for fifty years so small towns are easy to find connections to family. I answer questions for people from all over the world since both those towns were settled early in Pakeha times. (Collecting information on an old card file system that is too large to put into a data file.) The QSM was unexpected but was an honour for Opotiki. The Opotiki Museum is outstanding one for research.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
My favorite book this year is Won by The Spade by Peter Cooke. Published by Exisle 2019. It is an excellent social history of the development of New Zealand settlements aided by the New Zealand Engineers. The illustrations are outstanding and the Māori history very well set out. [Of course it is a military book but one I will treasure.]
What’s next on the agenda for you?
The writing of Volume Two of Valour Remembered – Kawe Mate – WW2 is nearly completed. I thought there would be only one volume. I have only to present it in a suitable form for the printer when the proofreader is finished. I have three months’ work ahead of me with luck.