Initially this book caught my eye whilst I was sorting the reserve shelves at the library. I wondered why a book about the First World War was titled An Awfully Big Adventure. This seemed a strange title for a book about war. The realities of war are conveyed through the reminiscences and reflections of eighty veterans who were interviewed for the World War One Oral History Archive. I find personal stories compelling so this book went on my reserve list.
I finally brought the book home and it sat on my table for a couple of weeks. I was holding back from picking it up. I don’t find it easy to read war stories, especially those told from a personal perspective. I thought it might be a harrowing read.
Instead of delving straight into the book, I decided to read the introduction to provide some context and a buffer to the stories. Jane Tolerton’s overview sets the scene; she describes the main motivation for going to war and ably captures the mood of the times. The veterans wanted their experiences recorded so New Zealanders knew about the war. She aptly finishes her introduction with an excerpt from veteran Gordon Neill.
If anything I’m saying now will dissuade people from human destruction and war, then I’ve spent my time well.
I was ready to begin.
I’m halfway through the book and it’s a bit of a stop / start read. I’m often re-reading to fully appreciate the stories. I was worried the excerpts may be a disjointed read but with Tolerton’s editing they easily follow on from one another. The yearly chronology, maps, and photographs add detail and insight creating a closer connection to the stories.
The First World War was one of the most significant events of the 20th century and had a huge impact on New Zealand society. Next year is the centenary and it will be marked by many different commemorative projects and activities. An Awfully Good Adventure provides an interesting and engrossing start to these events.