The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

It’s 1940 and the Chilbury village men, young and old alike, are called upon to fight to defend their heritage and their immediate future.

The Chilbury Ladies choir

The Vicar leaves a note on the church noticeboard stating that ‘As all our male voices have gone to war, the village choir is to close’.  This high-handed attitude rattles on the remaining but suddenly defunct females of the choir.  Action has to be taken and it is …

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is the result and a few prominent members of both choir and village are prompted to divulge their thoughts, actions, and emotions through correspondence – letters are written; journals are jotted in and generally, the fictional village of Chilbury and its occupants, are brought to life in what is a very uncertain and frightening time.

I debated whether I wanted to read about an all-female choir but it was essentially the ‘glue’ that held all the characters together and propelled the sub-plots along within the main storyline.

Blackmail, black marketeering, village hierarchy and social status combined with a healthy dollop of romance all play a part in the unfolding drama but it is the diverse female characters – young and old – who symbolise what mental and physical reserves of strength were required to survive yet another German invasion when still experiencing the effects of the previous one some twenty years ago.

I especially warmed to the precocious but somewhat naïve 13-year-old Kitty Winthrop who starts a diary as a result of an announcement on the wireless that ‘keeping a diary in these difficult times is excellent for the stamina’.  Her entries are funny, optimistic, deluded and very in keeping with an adolescent who feels she has a very old head on youthful shoulders when, in fact, her inability to understand the subtleties of life, make it both sad and funny at the same time.

The epistolary style of writing is reminiscent of other amazing reads such as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and The Colour Purple  by Alice Walker.

This novel will prove a very popular addition to any book club list – and at some future point in time possibly as a TV series.

This is Jennifer Ryan’s first novel and I look forward to reading whatever else she has in the pipeline.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
by  Jennifer Ryan
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008163716

The “Monty Tour” 1947: Picturing Canterbury

The “Monty Tour”, 1947.
Arthur Cyril Pearce worked for the Public Service Garage and drove dignitaries. He took this photo of one of his famous passengers Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. The “Monty Tour” went from 22-07-1947 to 11-08-1947 and went from Christchurch to Greymouth, Westport, Granity and back to Greymouth and then Christchurch. Date: 1947. Original Filename Pearce_family_photos_46.jpg Entry in the 2013 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ

 

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

The Battle for Crete

This May sees another 75th anniversary from the Second World War with great significance for New Zealand.

From 20 May to 1 June 1941 Allied Forces, including the 2nd New Zealand Division, took part in the ultimately unsuccessful but fiercely fought battle for Crete. That April the Germans had invaded Yugoslavia and Greece and as they had quickly occupied these countries, the Allies evacuated to the island of Crete.

On 20 May German paratroopers invaded the island and over the next 12 days a tightly contested battle raged. The Allies were forced to retreat again, with many being evacuated to Egypt and several thousand becoming prisoners of war.

Cover of Men of valourThe 2nd New Zealand Division regrouped and went on to take part in successful campaigns in North Africa and Italy.

Anzacs and the Battle of Britain: author interview with Adam Claasen

Running from early July to the end of October, the Battle of Britain ended in the failure of the Luftwaffe to gain air supremacy over the UK. The German invasion of Britain was called off and Hitler turned his attention to the Soviet Union instead.

Together Australian and New Zealand airmen made up the second largest Allied foreign contingent in the battle. Their story has been told fully for this first time in Dogfight by Adam Claasen, Senior Lecturer in History at Massey University. In recognition of the 75th anniversary of the battle we spoke to Adam about its Anzac connections.

134 New Zealanders and 37 Australians fought in the Battle of Britain. How do their experiences add to the overall story of this pivotal event of the Second World War?

It’s a story that has never been brought together before. There has been the odd book either side of the Tasman but this is the first time the New Zealand and Australian experience has been combined and told within the four phases of the Battle of Britain.

What I discovered was that the Anzacs had a significant part to play in combat and a larger role in leadership. The Anzacs nearly made up a third of the top ten aces of the campaign and became widely known: Colin Gray and Brian Carbury from New Zealand and Pat Hughes for the Australians. Gray, Carbury and Hughes knocked out close to fifty machines in total over some four months.

Air Marshal Keith Park performed magnificently under very difficult conditions, notably a lack of trained airmen. His leadership and strategy at the time is widely seen as instrumental in the eventual success of Fighter Command the failure of Hitler to gain air ascendancy as a perquisite to an invasion of Britain.

A number of these Anzacs flew Boulton Paul Defiants with 141 and 264 Squadrons. How did this two seater fighter aircraft compare with the with the famous Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane?

The Boulton Paul Defiant was a strange beast. Officially it was know as an ‘interceptor aircraft’ but popularly known as a ‘turret-fighter.’ It looked very much like the Hurricane but with the important addition, directly behind the pilot, of a powered turret armed with four Browning machine guns. In a way, it harked back to the successful two-man fighters of the Great War, for example, the Bristol F.2 Fighter.

Boulton Paul Defiant Mk I. Date [circa 1940]
Boulton Paul Defiant Mk I. [circa 1940], Wikipedia

However, the Defiant was no match for the Luftwaffe single engine fighter, the Messerschmitt Bf 109, because it suffered from two principle impediments: first, a lack-luster climb rate and poor maneuverability due to the added weight of the turret; and, second, it was not equipped with forward firing guns. Once Luftwaffe airman had gotten over the initial surprise of a backward-firing fighter they simply attacked it from below or head on.

Eventually they were withdrawn from the frontline of the Battle of Britain, but not before a number of men were killed in these ill-fated machines, including the youngest New Zealander to lose his life in the battle, eighteen year old Lauritz Rasmussen, a Defiant gunner. In the pre-war period, Winston Churchill had strongly advocated that Fighter Command to be equipped with large numbers of Defiants but mercifully wiser heads prevailed and only two squadrons saw the light of day.

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Remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki – bombed 70 years ago

The atomic bomb named “Little Boy” was dropped by American airmen on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Three days later on 9 August 1945, the atomic bomb “Fat Man” was dropped over Nagasaki.

The Hiroshima explosion destroyed 90 percent of the city and killed approximately 80,000 people; tens of thousands more died later from radiation exposure. The Nagasaki A-bomb killed approximately 40,000 people.

Find out about commemorations in Christchurch.

Hiroshima - Small child with baby on back searching for anything of usefulness. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: J-0012-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23130201

Hiroshima – Small child with baby on back searching for anything of usefulness. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: J-0012-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23130201

I remember reading the comic book series Barefoot Gen, and following him through ravaged Hiroshima. And Sadako and the thousand cranes – based on a true story – Sadako had developed leukemia from radiation.

And later, reading harrowing eyewitness reports from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There’s a statue of Sadako in the Hiroshima Peace Park, at its feet a plaque that reads:

“This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace on Earth.”

Find out more about Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Cover of Yoko's diary Cover of Last train to Hiroshima Cover of Barefoot Gen Cover of Hiroshima Cover of First into Nagasaki Cover of Nagasaki

Christchurch commemorations

Bell ringing

Thursday 6 August 11.15 am at the World Peace Bell in Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

As in recent years, the NZ Chapter of The World Peace Bell Association is participating in an international bell ringing to mark the exact time of the Hiroshima A bombing 70 years ago (8.15 am Japan time. 11.15 NZ time.) The event originated with peace campaigner SuZen in NYC. She organizes a huge event in New York Central Park every Hiroshima anniversary. This being the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima, it is suggested we ring the bell once for every year. It would be great to have church bells, tram bells, and any other bells joining in.

Information from the World Peace Bell Association.

70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at 5pm on Sunday 9 August at the World Peace Bell in the Botanic Gardens.

The Disarmament and Security Centre would like to invite you to join us to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at 5pm on Sunday 9 August at the World Peace Bell in the Botanic Gardens. The Mayor will be one of the speakers.  There will be a gathering afterwards at 6pm at the YMCA for soup and bread and a time to catch up.

HiroshimaDay2015Poster
Find out more about the World Peace Bell in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens and its connection to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Flowers under the Peace Bell
Flowers under the Peace Bell, Flickr CCL-2014-02-22-22February2014 DSC_1215.JPG

Women in wartime

I recently heard a story about an elderly lady living in a rest home who had played a significant role during the First World War. She had lived in the rest home for some five years or so and no one had a clue of her incredible background. This got me thinking about how many untold stories there must be of women who contributed in so many ways to the  war effort.

During the war, girls were engaged on a wide range of jobs [between 1940 and 1945] <a
During the war, girls were engaged on a wide range of jobs [between 1940 and 1945] CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0082
On research I have found that there is little written about the efforts of women, yet they had their own challenges and hardships.

One book I discovered, Women in Wartime: New Zealand Women Tell Their Story edited by Lauris Edmond, reports many personal accounts of women during both the first and second world wars. This quote from the book, from the story “A Memory from Poukawa”, is a fine example of the struggles of a mother during the First World War.

Mother, although barely fifty years old, was a grey-haired, worn out old lady striving to manage on our meagre income… with a large house to care for and numerous farm chores to attend to, because farm labourers were not to be found, she must have, with her indifferent health, worked to the limit of her endurance.

And from “Post Office, Tokomaru Bay”:

…women were doing men’s work on the farms. others were driving the buggies and wagonettes to meet the passengers off the steamers… The women handled great baskets of mail… sewed for the hospital ships and packed parcels for prisoners-of-war.

Cover of The Other AnzacsThe Other Anzacs: Nurses at War, 1914-1918 by Peter Rees is a must read also.

Over 600 nurses served in the New Zealand Army Nurses and many  others for the Red Cross. Many received medals and awards.

The book has many extraordinary  stories and tells of sacrifices, dedication, and sadness.  However, I felt it also uplifting in the description of how the nurses comforted injured soldiers, who they describe as “their boys”. This book is a thoughtful read and is available in hard copy as well as well as an eBook.

Have you read any books about women’s role in wartime?

VE Day – a twentieth century turning point

Early May sees the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe – or VE – Day. After the suicide of Adolf Hitler on 30th April, the Germans surrendered on 7th May 1945, bringing an end to the Second World War in Europe. The following day was designated Victory in Europe Day – a day of celebration and relief but tinged with great sadness. Gatherings and parades were held by victorious, but exhausted, nations around the world. Due to the time difference VE Day was held on 9th May in New Zealand.

Caption: Victory celebration stirs Christchurch crowds. Christchurch turned out yesterday en masse to attend the second day of Victory Celebrations. A section of the crowd in the Square. Description: 10 May 1945 Source: The Press, 11 May 1945, p.8

Victory celebration stirs Christchurch crowds. Christchurch turned out yesterday en masse to attend the second day of Victory Celebrations. A section of the crowd in the Square. 10 May 1945. The Press, 11 May 1945, p.8

The war against Japan in the Pacific was still raging, with New Zealand, British and American forces, amongst others, still fighting. Victory in the Pacific was still a few months away.

The closeness of this anniversary to the 100th anniversary of the start of the Gallipoli Campaign reminds us that there was only thirty years between the landings towards the beginning of the First World War and the end of the Second World War. In turn, the end of the Second World War led to the dismantling of the British Empire, independence for many colonised nations around the world and the Cold War.

Celebrating victory in Europe (VE Day, 9 May 1945), Normans Road, Bryndwr [9 May1945]

Celebrating victory in Europe (VE Day, 9 May 1945), Normans Road, Bryndwr
[9 May 1945] CCL Photo Collection 22, Img02308_01

2015 – what to expect in anniversaries

While 2015 is going to be dominated by the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign, there are a number of major non-First World War military-related anniversaries coming up this year. (This is not an exhaustive list)

Although the campaign was a failure, the evacuation of the allies from the Gallipoli Peninsula was remarkably successful, as was the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force and much of the French Army from Dunkirk in northern France 25 years later. In late spring 1940 Hitler‘s forces seemed unstoppable and withdrawal from continental Europe left Britain and her empire isolated and facing invasion. In order to invade the Nazis first needed air superiority, but during the tense weeks of the Battle of Britain that summer the RAF defeated the Luftwaffe and the invasion was called off.

A number of New Zealanders served with the RAF during the Battle of Britain, most notably Keith Park, from Thames, who commanded No. 11 Group defending London and the South-East of England.

This year will also see the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, both in Europe where VE (Victory in Europe) Day was held on 8 May (9 May in New Zealand) and VJ (Victory over Japan) Day on 15th August – although the official Japanese surrender wasn’t signed until 2nd September. As the Allies liberated Nazi-held territory in Europe the painful truth about their treatment of Jews was revealed. It was on 27th January that Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated.

The Battle of Waterloo was a major event in European history and took place in Belgium on 18th June 1815. The battle saw a coalition of British, Dutch, German and Belgian armies, led by the Duke of Wellington defeat the French and finally end Napoleon’s imperial aspirations in Europe. The Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolutionary Wars which had begun in 1792. If Napoleon had won, what would Wellington (and Picton) have been called?

The Hundred Years War lasted longer than 100 years, but one of the most significant battles of the war was fought 600 years ago this year. The Battle of Agincourt, which took place in northern France on 25th October, was a major victory for the English, immortalised in Shakespeare’s Henry V.

There certainly is much to think about and remember this year.

Remembering Monte Cassino

This last weekend has seen commemorations taking place for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Monte Cassino. Cassino was a major Second World War battle and the 2nd New Zealand Division was heavily involved.

Following the end of the North African campaign in 1943, the 8th Army (which the New Zealanders were part of) fought their way up up Italy. The Italians had surrendered in September 1943, but their former ally Germany subsequently occupied the peninsula. Liberating Italy developed into a long hard campaign, with Cassino being one of the toughest battles. New Zealand casualties from the Battle of Monte Cassino were 343 killed and over 600 wounded.

2014 – a year of many anniversaries

Cover of The Battle of Monte CassinoWhile the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in August 2014 is set to be one of 2014’s big stories, there are a number of other significant military anniversaries coming up this year. Please note that the listing in this blog is not remotely comprehensive – do feel free to post comments about any military anniversaries I haven’t mentioned.

September will see the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, this year providing a stark reminder that that this war broke out only 25 years after WW1.

6th June is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the allied invasion of north-west Europe. While no New Zealand units landed on D-Day, some New Zealand squadrons in the Royal Air Force took part in aerial support and two New Zealand Merchant Navy vessels ferried personnel and equipment across the English Channel.

September sees the 70th anniversary of the disastrous airborne landings at Arnhem.

It is also 70 years since the battles of Kohima and Imphal, two crucial engagements in the Far East campaign.
New Zealand troops were heavily involved in fighting at Monte Cassino in Italy in the first half of 1944.

Going back 150 years, in April 1864, as part of ongoing the New Zealand Wars,  a humiliating defeat was inflicted on the British at Gate Pā by Ngāi Te Rangi.

Cover of WellingtonLooking back further 2014 is 200 years since the end of the Peninsular War (1807-1814). This phase of the Napoleonic Wars saw Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, leading the campaign to chase the French out of Portugal and Spain. The Peninsula War was memorably brought to life in Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, later turned into a television show starring Sean Bean. Following the end of the war Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba. However, the next year he escaped, retook France and lost the Battle of Waterloo – which is going to be the big anniversary for 18 June 2015.

Even further back in 1714 the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) finally came to an end. Most famous for the Battle of Blenheim (1704) and the generalship of the Duke of Marlborough (of the same family as Winston Churchill and Diana, Princess of Wales) this war saw much of Europe at odds with France over who should succeed to the throne of Spain.

What other anniversaries are happening in 2014?