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Won By the Spade by Peter Cooke


This authoritative history of the Royal New Zealand Engineers offers a comprehensive account of the corps’ actions, events and personnel from New Zealand’s Wars of the 19th Century to the present day. It examines military engineering in New Zealand, the corps’ role in overseas wars and home defences, and provides a contemporary record of New Zealand’s contribution to military engineering, including de-mining operations, peacekeeping and civil aid missions.


Peter Cooke specialises in New Zealand military history and industrial heritage, having written a dozen books to date. Books include a variety of material e.g. Shell Oil NZ Ltd, The Wellington Returned and Services Association, and mine proof vehicles. He brings an international perspective (he is of British origin) and displays New Zealand’s interests as a part of a global whole. Peter Cooke edits military history periodicals, and lobbies for defence heritage sites under threat. He runs field trips to local battle sites.


I was surprised by the early content in this book as it covers comprehensively, the early history of conflict in New Zealand. It is easily read, with absolutely outstanding illustrations which complement the text and clarify the thoughts. The author outlines the contribution engineering pioneers made to roading, building houses, businesses and indeed establishing most infrastructure needed for a fledgling colony. The Engineers did, indeed, contribute much in skill and education to the development of the colony, and continue to offer the same skills today.


Sappers opened up the isolated areas through road building, telecommunications and carried their expertise into roles in civic transport, utility and industrial sectors of this country. Civil engineers needed education, an understanding of mathematics and advanced skills in perspectives such as map making to lay out towns. Sappers became specialist craftsmen so they could create pontoons to cross water, or create roads through unbroken country as they built our foundations.


The staggering amount of military engineering Maori undertook to create their fortified Pa is clearly illustrated. The considerable amount of work and skill it took to dig the surrounding trenches is outlined. Sites chosen were strategic for defence and to impede the enemy at every turn. The images chosen to illustrate these Pa are excellent.


It was not until I opened this book that I truly understood the truth of the motto for the Royal New Zealand Engineers. It is UBIQUE --- Everywhere. The professional skills of the Engineers are put to full use world wide as military sappers. They are the men of all work in the army. The sappers create defensive works on the landscape during wars. They work on the roads, rail or surveying the territory to enable the army to move.


They do work everywhere even today, when the Corps is sent overseas to help in war or do peacekeeping. Examples of these occupations are spread throughout the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book which gives a comprehensive coverage of the early development of New Zealand, both for Pakeha and Maori, through the contribution made by sappers (engineers).


Reviewer: Sonia Edwards

Exisle, RRP $69.99



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