Reading many lives

With regards to the quote above, if one were of a sardonic frame of mind one might point out that at the rate at which Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin kills off his characters a thousand lives might be an understatement. Nevertheless the basic premise stands. Reading allows anyone the chance to “inhabit” a great many people and characters.

This is never more true than when you’re reading a book of short stories. Though you may become attached to a character, the next protagonist is probably only a few page turns away. Sometimes this is a relief. Sometimes it leaves you wanting more.

Recently I’ve found myself reading books that work with the theme of many lives but in very different ways.

Cover of deleted scenes for lovers by Tracey SlaughterDeleted scenes for lovers by Tracey Slaughter. I think her surname is appropriate because she killed parts of my soul with this book (in a good way). Her short stories are set in New Zealand, but a rather grimy, rundown one. The stories, with exception of the last one which is a novella, are short and sometimes brutal vignettes from the lives of damaged and lost people. You’ll want to set aside time between each one. This is not a book to rush through. The writing is incisive and brilliant and made me feel a lot of things, some of them against my will.

Cover of Meet cuteMeet cute is rather anodyne by comparison. It’s a collection of young adult short stories, all by different writers and all featuring the “how they met” story of two characters. As with any collection like this some authors and characters resonate more than others, and while the bulk of the stories have a contemporary romance kind of vibe there are a couple of sci-fi/fantasy genre tales too. Most, though not all, of the stories are about straight couples – one of the unexpected joys of the book is that you don’t know when you’re introduced to the main character whether their story will be a boy-meets-girl or a girl-meets-girl one – I found it was fun to try and guess in the first page or so.

He rau mahara: To remember the journey of our Ngāi Tahu soldiers: From the pā to the battlefields of the Great War is completely different again – a nonfiction title produced by Ngāi Tahu’s whakapapa unit about the iwi’s First World War soldiers. It’s a beautifully put together book, filled with photographs of soldiers with names you might recognise – Nortons, Pōhios and Skerretts. Nearly two thirds of the book is dedicated to a profile of every Ngāi Tahu soldier who took part in the Great War, with the first part of the book featuring a sample of stories of soldiers, war, and their families. A gorgeous and poignant memorial to South Island soldiers and their whānau, and the lives they lived.

Auē! Me tangi noa ahau ki muri nei

My grandfather’s brother never came back from World War One. He’s buried in Armentières, France. My grandmother’s brother lost his leg, so the family farm in Southland had to be sold – he couldn’t take up his inheritance. My great aunt’s fiancé returned a shell-shocked alcoholic – PTSD, they’d call it these days. They parted and she never married.

In the retellings of the larger stories of war it is often these vignettes of personal loss, the consequences felt by loved ones, that speak quietly but with a universal relatability.

I found myself thinking of those members of my family, and the war that changed their lives, when listening to the beautiful lament E Pari Rā.

Written by Paraire Tomoana (Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Te Whatu-i-āpiti leader) for his relative, kuia Maku-i-te-Rangi Ellison, E Pari Rā gives a lasting voice to her pain and grief over the loss of her son Whakatomo Ellison, who died in the battle of the Somme. Its beautiful metaphor for grief as the surging tide is both deeply personal, and universal.

E pari rā

E pari rā e ngā tai ki te ākau. / The tides surge onto the seashore
E hotu rā ko taku manawa. / with each throb of my heart.
Auē! Me tangi noa / Alas! Weeping without restraint
Ahau i muri nei / for I am left behind, 
Te iwi e he ngākau tangi noa. / everyone is utterly heart-broken.

Tēnā rā! Tahuri mai! / So please come back, return
E te tau! te aroha. / my beloved, my love
Tēnei rā ahau te tangi nei. / I weep here
Mōhou kua wehea nei. / for you now far away
Haere rā! mahara mai. / Farewell! And remember, 
E te tau! kia mau ki au. / Beloved! Be true to me
Haere rā! ka tūturu ahau. / Farewell! I will be true to you
Haere Rā! / Farewell!

Haere rā e tama / Farewell young man
Haere rā. / Farewell.
Haria rā te aroha i ahau / Take my love with you
Auē! Me tangi noa / Alas! Tears fall
Ahau ki muri nei / as I am left behind here
Te iwi e he ngākau tangi noa. / the hearts of your people weep openly

Find out more

Start your research with Credo Reference

The thought of starting research can be daunting, so a great starting place is a hidden gem of an eResource  – Credo Reference.

Credo Reference is a collection of over 800 reference eBooks with full text articles, images, and videos covering a huge variety of information –  for all ages.

To show you how it works, I have started by searching Anzac Day.

Top result is from the eBook Holiday Symbols and Customs.
This title covers the origins of the day, and symbols and customs such as Dawn Service, Anzac Day parades, and the Australian gambling game Two-up.

From the results page, Credo offers you a Mind Map tool so you can search other related topics on Credo. Below is the example Mind Map of Anzac Day. You can then find information on certain battles, Gallipoli, and other remembrance days. List of sources will be on the right side of the page if you want to read more about any of the mind map headings.

Credo is a great place to start your research, it is easy to use and using tools like Mind Map it can take your quest for information in a different directions.

Across the wartime waves: Message in a bottle

Though hills and waters divide us,

And you I cannot see.

Remember that the writer thinks

The nicest things of thee.

The ship Tahiti in Wellington Harbour, ca 1914-1918 Reference Number: 1/2-014597-G

So read the message placed in a bottle by four Christchurch lads off on, what many had thought, would be a great adventure.

Dated 21 October 1914 the bottle with the message had been tossed overboard from the troopship H.M.N.Z.T. No. 4. Tahiti possibly while it was docked at Hobart, Tasmania, or maybe during the ship’s voyage west to Albany, Western Australia from where it departed in November 1914 bound for Egypt.

The bottle washed ashore in Portland, Victoria, where it was found on 2 January 1915 by a Mr J. Rae on a beach between Cape Grant and Cape Nelson.

By this time the four soldiers of the 1st (Canterbury) Regiment A Company, who had signed the message, George Lindsay, H Townsend, Sydney Rowe and R. Fitchett were on the other side of the world and about to enter a war which two of them would not survive.

Private G.L. Lindsay. Canterbury Times, 23 June 1915.

George Lindsay was born in Avonside. He’d been involved in farming at Rangiora but prior to going overseas he had a touring car which he ran as a taxi. He enlisted in August 1914 and by October was on his way to Egypt. George was killed in action on 8 May 1915 in the Dardanelles.

He had been a member of the Linwood Congregational Church and after his death the Reverend H.A Job recalled George as being “of a quiet and inoffensive nature, and not what is commonly the fighting type”.

Private A.V. Fitchett. Canterbury Times, 7 July 1915.

Victor Fitchett was an English immigrant who lived in Sumner, working for Gibbs Bros. It wasn’t clear when he had arrived in Christchurch but news articles indicate it was around 8 years before the war.

He was a keen sportsman involved with the Sumner Football Club, and also the Fire Brigade. Victor also served and died in the Dardanelles – his body was never found but a board of enquiry deemed he had been killed on, or about, 7th August 1915.

Private H.S. Rowe. Canterbury Times, 23 June 1915

Henry Sydney Rowe lived in Redcliffs. On the electoral roll he was recorded as a plumber but on his enlistment forms he’d been recorded as a motor driver at Sumner Garage. He had married Janey Daly in September 1914.  Henry also served in the Dardanelles, where he was wounded and then returned to NZ aboard the Maheno in December 1915, after which he was medically discharged.

After the war he and Janey continued to live in the Sumner /Redcliffs area. Henry died in 1966.

Joseph Henry Townshend. Online Cenotaph, Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Joseph Henry “Harry” Townshend (Townsend) had been born in Mataura but moved to Christchurch with his family when he was 15, living in Spreydon. He’d worked as a draper at Strange and Co. before enlisting. He was injured at Gallipoli in August 1915, evacuated home, and sent to convalesce at the Trentham Hospital.

After the war he remained in Wellington, marrying Emily and working as a splint-maker – a skill he learnt as part of the vocational training course he undertook while convalescing – at Trentham and then Wellington Hospitals. Harry died in 1964.

George and Victor are among the many men and women who have been remembered on war memorials in Christchurch, and whose biographies have been shared on Kete Christchurch.

To commemorate WW100 Matuku Takotako: Sumner Centre are exhibiting a display of stories of the men who enlisted from the Sumner area, and at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre you can see the stories of Halswell men who enlisted.

Follow our tweets from @100chch to discover life and events 100 years ago in Christchurch and Canterbury.

Anzac Day in Christchurch – Wednesday 25 April 2018

Anzac Day will be commemorated on Wednesday 25 April. All our libraries will be closed on this public holiday. Read our page on Anzac Day and Gallipoli to find out more about this commemoration.

Anzac Day Memorial Service, Little River 25 April 1917. Kete Christchurch, Shuttleworth Collection. CCL-Kete-986

Anzac Day services

The following information is from Christchurch City Council:

Dawn Parade and Anzac Service

The dawn parade and Anzac service will be held in Cranmer Square. The parade marches from the RSA building on Armagh Street.

  • 6am to 6.15am: People gather
  • 6.15am: Parade begins from RSA 
  • 6.30am: Service begins centred around the Memorial Cenotaph in Cranmer Square
  • 7.15am: Service concludes with wreath laying, as  Mayor Lianne Dalziel lays a wreath on behalf of the citizens of Christchurch.

This event is organised by the Canterbury Branch of the Malayan Veterans Association in conjunction with the Christchurch Branch of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RSA) and Christchurch City Council. 

Christchurch Citizens’ Service

The Anzac service for Christchurch citizens will be held at the Transitional Cathedral, Latimer Square starting at 10am.
Organised by Christchurch City Council in conjunction with ChristChurch Cathedral and the RSA.

Anzac Day service at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand

Come and join in honouring the service and sacrifice of thousands of New Zealanders who have served with the Air Force at their annual Anzac Day commemorative service. The service will commence at 12pm midday on Wednesday 25 April 2018, in the Museum’s Atrium.

More Anzac Day services in Christchurch and Banks Peninsula

View the Christchurch Anzac Day service list [PDF]

Exhibitions, displays, and events

Halswell

Halswell Heroes Exhibition (on until 6 May)
Staff from Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre, Upper Riccarton, and Spreydon libraries share their research from the war stories of men who enlisted from the Halswell area.

Sumner

Sumner Boys Exhibition (26 April to 25 May)
A collaborative display of research on the war stories of men who enlisted from the Sumner area. Stories and photos are included of soldiers on the roll of honour located on the wall outside Matuku Takotako: Sumner Centre.

Christchurch Field of Remembrance – Cranmer Square

Final salute for Field of Remembrance Newsline

The Christchurch Field of Remembrance was established in 2015 for Anzac Day, with 632 named crosses commemorating Cantabrians who died in World War I in 1915. Each year more crosses have been added to represent the fatalities from that year – 825 crosses were added in 2016 representing those who died in 1916, 1406 crosses were added in 2017 for those who died in 1917. The final 1528 crosses – representing those who died in 1918 – were added on Saturday 14 April 2018. There are 4391 crosses.

Canterbury and World War One: Lives Lost, Lives Changed – Canterbury Museum

Find out more by visiting the Canterbury and World War One: Lives Lost, Lives Changed exhibition at Canterbury Museum.

WW100Find out more

The future is just around the corner…

Yesterday I happened to be in Cathedral Square, walking past An Origin Story‘s lovely hoardings around the convention centre site. As you can see in the image, from one angle the panel which states that ‘the future is just around the corner’ points right to Tūranga – the future of Ōtautahi is appearing right in front of our eyes. We cannot wait to share our new facility with you!

And yet, I’ve been thinking, the future is so terribly fragile, quickly becoming the present – for a flash – and then the past. The present of Tūranga still feels a long way off, but how long before it becomes a familiar, comforting and challenging place that we know and love and feel as if it has always been there?

9781847921888Everything becomes superseded. This point has been brought home to me recently, when reading Ben Shephard‘s Headhunters: the search for a science of the mind. It looks at the lives and careers of four men (quelle surprise) who worked across the fields of medicine, psychology, psychiatry, anthropology and neurology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At that time, many of these scientific disciplines were new and emerging with exciting ideas being developed, tested and sometimes lauded. Looking back, we can see that some of those ideas were offensively racist.

They championed field work in anthropology and lead the way in defining and treating shell shocked and mentally wounded service personnel in the First World War. And yet and generation or two – or even less – of their deaths many of their theories and work was disproved or supplanted. What was once cutting edge is now old hat.

But that’s what happens, doesn’t it? We are all part of a continuing development and dialogue, and improved theories and ideas grow out of older ones. That’s one of the many exciting things about Tūranga – how many ideas and thoughts etc etc will be developed and created there using exciting collections, programmes and other resources, before it too is superseded?

Armistice Day – Will you remember them?

Now more than ever it is important that we remember. As we approach the 99th anniversary of Armistice Day, on Saturday 11 November, it is good to reflect on the enormous sacrifice of our forebears, lest we ever find ourselves at war again.

Armistice Day – Wreath Laying Ceremony
Bridge of Remembrance, Christchurch. Saturday 11 November

  • 10.45am Gather with the veterans if you wish to walk in the procession up to the bridge for the ceremony.
  • 10.50am Viewing public gather for ceremony at the bridge.
  • 11.00am 2 minutes silence will be held.
Crowd in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, celebrating Armistice Day. Head, Samuel Heath, d 1948 :Negatives. Ref: 1/1-007108-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/22898377
Crowd in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, celebrating Armistice Day. Head, Samuel Heath, d 1948 :Negatives. Ref: 1/1-007108-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/22898377

I grew up in Australia and I can still remember being told at school to sit in silence for a minute – and not fully understanding why. This followed by many silent but awkward looks around the classroom as one and all struggled to either remain silent; or willfully goaded their classmates into doing something that they would be reprimanded for. It wasn’t lost on me that it was out of respect for people that had fought in the war but what that means to me now is vastly different to what it meant to me then.

Fortunately, most of our children today have very little concept of war and the suffering it brings; as it is something far beyond their living memory. Even their grandparents are now the baby boomers rather than coming from a generation that lived through either of the world wars. Maybe because of this, you get the sense that recent years have seen a decline of recognition of such solemn occasions as Armistice Day. I honestly can’t recall a time in the last few years that I paused at work to mark the moment. With all of us attending to busy lives, 11am has simply passed without comment from everybody in the vicinity. And this is rather sad.

Armistice telegram. Kete Christchurch. Armistace_telegram.jpg
Armistice telegram. Kete Christchurch. Armistace_telegram.jpg Creative Commons License

I think we need to bring Armistice Day back into the spotlight. I think it would stand us all in good stead if we do have timely reminders of the loss, misery and horror that war represents. So let us not forget, let us always remember, let us instill these values into our children so they can lead the way for theirs.

Come down and see us at the library and we will be more than happy to share our numerous Armistice Day resources with you. Then gather up your loved ones and head over to the Bridge of Remembrance on Saturday 11th November. Arrive in plenty of time to get a good spot where you can share in this solemn occasion and quietly reflect at 11am for a minutes silence.

Lest we forget…

CoverCoverCover

Armistice Day

The Sixteen Trees of the Somme

Wood has always held a mysterious fascination for me – mysterious inasmuch as I can never quite fathom what it is that I find so appealing. Is it the grain? The texture? Or the capacity (in skilled hands) for it to be made into something functional — sailing vessels, basic furniture and everyday utensils — and also its natural beauty in the form of exquisite designs in churches, palaces, universities, stately homes, contemporary homes and gardens.

I am a person who wanders around tree(s) and ponders on the historical events taking place whilst it grew from sapling stage to its current state. Redwoods, Oaks, Mahogany, Rimu, and even driftwood, knotted and gnarled by life and water, can leave me quite overwhelmed.

So the intriguing title The Sixteen Trees of the Somme set off my internal musings of Nature standing firm amidst man-made destruction, and it made me keen to read this book. I wasn’t disappointed!

C

This is the story of Edward — a young Norwegian living on the family farm with his emotionally distant grandfather Sverre. Edward’s life has been emotionally stunted by both his upbringing — his grandfather fought in the German Army during the Second World War, a fact that sets the family apart from the other villagers — but also by being the only survivor in the tragic and inexplicable deaths of his parents. His own disappearance at that time and subsequent recovery four days later when just a toddler is an unsolved mystery. Edward doesn’t fit in and isn’t particularly happy with his solitary condition.

After the sudden death of his grandfather, Edward has a talk with the local minister who provides him with the basic bones of his family history including the introduction of Einar Hirifjell, Sverre’s brother, a master cabinetmaker who had lived and supposedly died in France in 1944 (after a brief period of time spent in the Shetland Islands). How is it then that a dead man manages in 1979 to have a magnificent flame-birch coffin delivered from the Shetland Islands for Sverre? How can such workmanship not be Einar’s?

So, we journey with Edward back in time from 1980s Norway, the Shetland Islands and France to a particularly brutal First World War Battle in the Somme which is the catalyst for the next sixty years of history that will uncover the mystery of Edward’s tragic family losses.

Lars Mytting has produced a tale as historically epic as the circles in the life of, say, a giant Sequoia. And, yes, the sixteen walnut trees of the Somme are hugely significant to Edward in uncovering his heritage but you have to keep reading.

I really enjoyed the fictional story set amidst the reality of history and was very grateful to have the pictorial maps at the front of the book to give me some sense of distances in Edward’s travels.

I’m  almost certain that this is the first love story I have read written from a male perspective.  I did find it a little difficult to emotionally connect with any specific character as they are, for the most part, discussed in reminiscences by other characters in the novel to explain the sequence of events. Emotions are suppressed in striking contrast to the vivid descriptions of scenery, weather, and military battles and of course, those undefeatable walnut trees!

The Sixteen Trees of the Somme
by Lars Mytting
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9780857056047

The Alice Network – Review

I spent the last couple of weeks down the rabbit hole, head buried in The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. The story captured me from the very beginning—no need to read to page 90 with this one; I was hooked by page two!

Cover of The Alice network

Nineteen forty-seven was hell for little bony girls like me who couldn’t wear the New Look. Then again, 1947 was hell for any girl who would rather work calculus problems than read Vogue, any girl who would rather listen to Edith Piaf than Artie Shaw, and any girl with an empty ring finger but a rounding belly.

It was a surprising, rabbit-warren of a novel, following the interconnected paths of two very different women, and spanning both world wars. One path is the story of Charlie St Clair, the little bony  girl with the rounding belly, on her way to an Appointment to deal with her Little Problem. The other is the story of Eve Gardiner, a stuttering half-French girl plucked from her life as a file girl in an English law office and dropped into the spy network in France during World War I. It’s also the story of their two quests—Charlie’s search for her French cousin Rose, missing since 1944, and Eve’s quest for retribution and for peace.

And, it’s the story of Louise de Bettignies, code named Alice Dubois, queen of spies.

Cover of A tangled web: Mata Hari

Have you heard of her? If you have, you’re doing better than me! Before reading this fascinating novel, I knew nothing about women spies in WWI apart from some vague recollections about Mata Hari. I was surprised when I realised that I was reading about a woman who had truly risked her life providing the allies with information. I mean, I’m not completely ignorant about the world wars. I studied Gallipoli in History and War Poetry in English, not to mention a having a fair few novels set during the wars on my Completed Shelf. But Louise de Bettingnies was a stranger to me. It’s a shame she isn’t better known, as Kate Quinn says of her in the authors note:

The courage, ingenuity, and resourcefulness of the woman christened the queen of spies needs no exaggeration to make for thrilling reading.

Not only was Louise a real person, so too were several other characters, and many of the events in the story are based on historical events. I didn’t realise this while I was reading, so this realisation, at the end, made the book even more enjoyable.

This book is, by turns, exciting, harrowing, poignant, a little romantic, and quite funny. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Charlie, after being refused access to her own bank account because she’s lacking a man, decides to pawn her grandmothers pearls, and Eve surprises her by pretending to be the said grandmother and browbeating the pawnbroker into giving Charlie a decent price. I’m definitely going to be adding Kate Quinn to my list of must-read authors, and I hope you do too!

The Alice Network
by Kate Quinn
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780062654199

Not such a strange meeting – Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon

Cover100 years ago last week at Craiglockhart Hospital for Neurasthenic Officers in Edinburgh, Wilfred Owen introduced himself to Siegfried Sassoon and one of the great literary friendships was born. Wilfred was recovering from shellshock, deeply traumatised by his time on the Western Front in 1917. Siegfried, grieving and angry at the deaths of his friends and men in his unit, had protested against the continued conduct of the First World War. After intervention from Robert Graves, he was sent to Craiglockhart rather than face a court martial. As the aspiring poet Wilfred was well aware, Siegfried was already a moderately famous poet. In the few weeks together they had in Scotland, Siegfried encouraged and mentored Wilfred.

Wilfred was killed on 4 November 1918, exactly a year after he left Craiglockhart and a week before the Armistice, however in the time between meeting Siegfried and his death he produced some of the most famous war poems, including Anthem for Doomed Youth and Strange Meeting. Their shared influence can still be felt today – their works are still taught in school, and Siegfried’s quote “I died in hell; they called it Passchendaele” has been widely quoted in the ongoing commemorations of the Third Battle of Ypres.

CoverWe know so much about their friendship as they both wrote about it – Wilfred in excited letters to his mother and Siegfried a couple of decades later in his volume of autobiography Siegfried’s Journey. This documentation has provided excellent source material for modern authors looking to portray the two poets. They are the subject of a two-hander play Not About Heroes which covers Craiglockhart in Act One and their different paths in Act Two. Intimate and moving, this is a powerful play (but having directed it a few years ago I am quite biased).

CoverPerhaps the most well-known depiction of their friendship is in Pat Barker‘s award winning Regeneration Trilogy. However, in Barker’s interpretation of Siegfried’s time at Craiglockhart, his friendship with Wilfred is overshadowed by his connection with his doctor, W. H. R. Rivers. There’s a lot going on in the trilogy – the cultural construct of masculinity cracking under pressure, mental health, sex, pacifism – and Siegfried and Wilfred are only one strand to this. Rivers is perhaps the main character and the marvelous fictional creation that is Billy Prior dominates the last two books.

I’ve mentioned before how Billy is possibly my favourite literary character. He’s the working class kid who becomes an officer; he’s bisexual; he’s somewhere on the continuum of sanity and insanity; he’s a split personality. He’s so many things that in some ways he shouldn’t work but – to me at least – he does. Billy and Rivers tie the trilogy together.

And so a chance meeting 100 years ago is still being interpreted and played out today; the voices of those caught up in conflict still resonating.

Do you have a favourite war poem?