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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

The Front Line: Images of New Zealanders in the Second World War by Glyn Harper with Susan Lemish

The Front Line is an impressive hardback that features over 800 landmark images that span the Second World War from the home front to the battles and places that New Zealand soldiers, sailors and airmen went from 1939 to 1945. With images from Amy, Navy and Airforce Museums, as well as many images that have never been seen before from private collections, this is a book that brings to life this unprecedented conflict. It is said a 'picture paints a thousand words' and this book proves that to be true – but Glyn Harper's thoughtful text gives additional information about each image, placing the photographs in context.

It's a book to revisit repeatedly, with its extraordinary images, some of them live-action photos taken during conflict, in a book that spans training in New Zealand, the campaigns in Greece and Crete, the air war over Europe, and the war in North Africa. It also includes the war at sea, the war in the Pacific, the Italian Campaign, Prisoners of War, the Home Front and finally, troops coming home.

Some of the opening images show ships laden with troops, with huge crowds coming out to say goodbye as they departed to an uncertain future, capturing this historic time. There are very human images – a happy-looking seaman enjoying Trafalgar Square in 1940 (he was later killed in action in December 1941); a group of New Zealanders performing a haka to impress a waitress; men having beers in a London pub. There are also photos of troops training, marching and relaxing. It's not all men, either; there are images of smart-looking women, some part of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps on their way to war, posing by the pyramids in Egypt, or others working as nurses. There are also images of weddings and sporting events.

There are spectacular images of the air force in action, as well as naval warfare. In one photo, there is a confronting image of a flying officer with severe facial burns. In others, you can feel the troops' exhaustion as they rest from battles in primitive conditions. In other images, you see the extensive destruction of cities caused by extensive bombing. Then there is the sand and dust of the North African deserts and the tropical beauty of the Pacific islands juxtaposed with the machinery of war. Other images show life in Prisoner of War camps with cameras that have been smuggled in.

The Front Line is a well-researched and well-presented book that will interest anyone who would like to know more about the Second World War. The images are immediate and compelling and take you back in time in a way that is difficult for words alone to convey. Simply put, this is an excellent book.

Reviewer: Karen McMillan

Massey University Press, RRP 79.99


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