Told through the eyes of 10-year-old Zac, living in 1968 Wellington and a 21-year-old World War 1 soldier, The Battle of Messines Road is a coming of age story, a war diary and a novel about friendship and families.
While reading New Zealand military histories on WW1, William Moloney would often see quotes from a JK Moloney. He assumed it was his grandfather but he never knew the source of the quotes. When his father retired, he went to the National Archives and had found his grandfather’s diary. The National Archives had bought it soon after his grandfather’s death – no one in the family even knew it existed.
Moloney was given a photocopied version of the dairy and spent a decade typing it out, and in the process, came to know the story within its pages incredibly well. Moloney combines the diary with carefully researched history and fiction to give the readers a unique insight into WW1 and the nature of war, alongside an exciting story line.
Zac – a fictional character whose father has left home to serve alongside the Americans in Vietnam – is charged with reading the newspaper, and then the diary, to an ageing soldier, Mr Moloney. In turn the old man finds catharsis in reliving his experiences in the charnel house of Flanders. The transition between fact and fiction can be a little jarring at times, but it is an interesting and unique read. The growing relationship between Zac and Mr Moloney is lovely and heartwarming.
While the book is marketed at appealing to a wide-range of reader interest, the diary entries are a little long and tricky for the young adult market. They could just follow Zac’s story. Likewise, the older generation may be more interested in the diary – which can be found in its original form at the National Archives.
The wealth of information contained in the diary is overwhelming. Mr Moloney talks about boarding the troopship Tahiti in 1915 to Egypt, all the way through to the Western Front in France where he serves until 1917. It is beautifully written, with a sharp wit, a keen eye and a heartbreaking honesty. Not only does it offer a detailed image of life during the war for the soldiers, but also for civilians.
Overall, The Battle of Messines Road is a unique read that gives a fresh perspective on a period of New Zealand’s history. It is a book of how two wars, 50 years apart, changed New Zealand and its people.
REVIEWER: Rebekah Fraser
TITLE: The Battle of Messines Road
AUTHOR(S): J. K. Moloney, W. J. Moloney