Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-45

Cover of LisbonThe great Italian poet Dante Alighieri once said, “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality”. I generally agree with that sentiment when I look back on history and the lamentable omissions of leaders.

However, I’m reminded from time to time that geopolitical life isn’t always as simple as it seems … especially after reading baffling books like Neill Lochery’s Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the city of Light, 1939-45.

Lisbon covers the history of Portugal during WW2 under the dictator General Salazar, as he navigates the seas of non-alignment – among other seemingly unethical things.
Make no mistake, Salazar was a shrewd economist and politician, but opposed liberalism, democracy, socialism and anarchism (there being a strong anarchist movement in Europe at the time). Basically it was a fascist, authoritarian regime which persecuted lots of people.

But, despite the fascism that Lochery describes, the Salazar regime achieved the seemingly impossible during WW2 – Portugal being one of the few windows of escape from German occupied Europe for tens of thousands of persecuted Jews. Who then made their way to America, South America, England and Palestine.

However, not only was Portugal an avenue for escape for Europe’s Jews, its neutrality meant it was a swirling frenzy of desperate humans, all trying to get theirs in an environment wracked with widespread espionage and a bountiful black market (other war refugees, human trafficking, bribery, commercial dealings). Strangely, despite the authoritarian Portuguese regime with its secret police, laissez-faire Lisbon was a city where foreign operatives could to what they wanted, as long as Portugal’s internal affairs where left alone.

Therefore, Lisbon became a hive of WW2 undercover operations as German, English and American agents attempted to buy people, information and documentation in order to sabotage the other teams interests. One noteworthy individual in the midst of it all was Ian Fleming, who conceived his James Bond stories as a result of his experiences as an agent frequenting bars and gambling in Lisbon (think Casino Royale).

So, with all this carry-on comes intimate stories of individual brilliance and blundering as various agents, politicians, public servants and officials cleverly secured passage for escaping Jews and other scared peoples. The story of actor Leslie Howard’s (Gone With The Wind) death is relayed to us, as he and several other Jewish and English persons of interest are shot down in a plane leaving Lisbon. German counter-intelligence hoping Churchill was in there too. All rather thrilling!

Salazar’s economic dealings were a tightrope walk. He needed to keep his economy afloat, all the while keeping the Allies and Germans happy with critical exports for their own war efforts – export too much and one side gets angry at you, export too little and Hitler might get suspicious and invade you like he did the rest of mainland Europe. The pressure really must have been unbearable at times for Salazar, who was surrounded in Europe by Fascist Spain and Italy in the South, and Fascist Germany controlling much of Europe – any solid evidence of collaborating with the English and Portugal would have been pincered.

The author does well to convey the tension and apprehension of the people on the streets and in political office – as if time was running out to move the tide of refugees and information on to safer shores, before Hitler rumbles into town. In this respect this work reminds me of the film Casablanca. If you like that, then you will like this.

It leaves me a bit perplexed in terms of my own ethical principles, because Salazar was in many ways a tyrant. But that’s the thing I like about this book – it gives you insights into the decision making processes of those in leadership, without whom, many more lives would have been ruined.

Despite developing an appreciation for Salazar’s war time leadership, he was still a fascist. Give me liberal democracy any day.

Oh, and i’ts a beautiful book cover too.

Gallipoli – the August campaigns

While we remember the Gallipoli landings on 25th April every year, some major parts of the campaign took place in August. As the initial assault on the peninsula and subsequent fighting had turned into a nightmarish stalemate, it was decided to land more (mainly British) troops and attack again.

Once again New Zealand and Australian troops were heavily involved. It was in this part of the campaign that the famous battles of Lone Pine (6-7 August) and Chunuk Bair (8-10 August) took place. The Wellington Battalion took and occupied the summit of Chunuk Bair, but suffered huge casualties. Amongst those killed was the battalion’s commander, Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone.

I believe that my great-grandfather landed at Suvla Bay on or around 10th August as part of the Suffolk Regiment. He survived, but caught malaria. Do you have any connections to the later stages of the Gallipoli Campaign?

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.

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.

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.

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

Nurses at war – Anna Rogers at South Library, Saturday 25 July

Cover of While you're awayWe know quite a lot about  New Zealand men at war. Less is known about the lives of military nurses. Anna Rogers, author of While You’re Away: New Zealand Nurses at War 1899–1948, will talk about the contribution made by these remarkable women and speak about three nurses – two of them from Canterbury – who served overseas in South Africa, the First World War and the Second World War.

Nona Mildred Hildyard  Original Filename: HildyardNM.jpg, Kete Christchurch
Nona Mildred Hildyard, Canterbury Times, 10 November 1915, Kete Christchurch HildyardNM.jpg

More about Nurses at war

Cover of The Other Anzacs Cover of While you're away Cover of A nurse at war Cover of Anzac Girls


The First World War from a different perspective

Being the 100th anniversary of the First World War, there has been an avalanche of material arriving in the library on this subject. Many are long forgotten diaries and personal stories that are understandably harrowing and poignant to say the least.

Alongside these important stories are  some lighter – but none-the-less interesting – facets of war that haven’t previously been published.

The Great War CookbookThe Great War Cookbook
Contains over 500 wartime recipes,  from Ox-Brain Fritters and Fish Custard, to Shepherd’s Pie and Trench Pudding.  Apparently according to the publisher “there is something for everyone!”

Antiques Roadshow World War I in 100 family treasures
The ever popular Antiques Roadshow team decided to mark the centenary of the start of World War I by filming a series of specials at the Somme, where the public brought in their family’s war memorabilia and photographs. This book selects 100 stories that shows how they fit in to the wider history that was occurring around them.

FaFashion: Women in World War Ishion : Women in World War One
Women’s wartime roles as nurses, naval officers, factory workers of course needed the right clothes for the job. From the luxurious silks of High Society, to the boots and breeches of the Women’s Land Army, Fashion: Women in World War One explores the impact of war on fashion from 1914-1918 with unique images and beautiful original garments.

And the Band Played OnAnd the Band Played On
Songs, stories and singalongs played a huge part in keeping moral going during the long months spent in the trenches. This book seeks to recreate the music and the camaraderie that accompanied these men who went to war.

Beyond the BattlefieldBeyond the battlefield : women artists of the two World Wars
A fascinating account of female creativity in America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand during the turbulent era of twentieth-century conflict highlighting women artists’ unique  portrayal of war at the front lines. Documenting everyday life on the home front as well as being nurses, voluntary aides, ambulance drivers, these artists somehow found time to create astonishing art while working in the middle of war zones.

Great War 100: First World War in Infographics
The Great War 100And lastly an interesting way of highlighting all aspects of the World War using infographics.

This leads to a compelling and very visual representation of data and facts about World War I.  See how the idea of depicting World War I developed.

Looking at the Anzacs

As Anzac Day approaches, we have some interesting First World War displays for you to explore:

The Changing Face of Veterans (exhibition at Upper Riccarton Library until Monday 4 May). This photographic exhibition is about New Zealand’s war veterans since the First World War – our changing perceptions of veterans, and how we remember them. It’s a collaborative community project by Rannerdale Veterans’ Care, Upper Riccarton Library, and Riccarton High School.

There is also a poppy blanket display.
ANZAC display with poppy blanket

ANZAC display with poppy blanket. Flickr Upper-Riccarton-Displays-ANZAC-Display-2015.JPG

World War One at home and at the front (exhibition at Central Library Peterborough until Sunday 24 May) – A display of uniforms, equipment, photographs, publications, badges and letters, and even gas masks – all generously loaned by Barry O’Sullivan, private collector. Read Alina’s post to get a flavour, and view the O’Sullivan collection online.

The New Brighton Boys (exhibition at New Brighton Library until the end of May)
Staff from Christchurch City Libraries, have put together a display of the stories of the 62 soldiers with strong links to New Brighton, who served and died in the First World War. The display includes stories of each soldier and some photographs. Find out more about the New Brighton Boys on Kete Christchurch.

First World War talks

We will also host a series of talks on First World War subjects:

Find out more:

At 3PM, 5 August 1914, New Zealand officially entered the First World War.

At 3pm on 5 August 1914, the New Zealand Governor, Lord Liverpool, read a telegram from His Majesty King George V to a crowd of 15,000 people gathered at Parliament in Wellington. The telegram expressed The King’s appreciation for the solidarity of his overseas dominions after Britain declared war with Germany. Lord Liverpool responded with New Zealand’s own commitment to make any sacrifice necessary. With that commitment, New Zealand officially entered the First World War, forever changing our society.

News was received in Christchurch by 3:45 PM. The evening paper The Star had a special edition out by 4 PM with a 5 PM edition containing the details of the New Zealand commitment. The next day The Press found space on page 6 to share the news of war.



Find news via Papers Past including the local papers Press, Star and Sun.



One hundred years on from the outbreak of war

For the past few months interest in the centenary of the outbreak of World War One has been growing. This major anniversary is now upon us and over the next four or so years we have the opportunity to reflect on and discover all aspects of this global conflict at a local, national and international level.

A month after the assassination on 28th June 1914 of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Over the next few days other countries and empires declared war on each other, with Britain declaring war on Germany on 4th August. This news was received in New Zealand on 5th August. Many New Zealanders had close ties to Britain and there was strong support for the war. The conflict we now call World War One or the First World War had begun.

Cover of From the TrenchesBefore the month of August was out the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) sent to capture German Samoa had succeeded in their objective – this was the second Germany territory to fall to the Allies in the war. The main body of the NZEF set sail in October 1914, seeing service at Gallipoli, on the Western Front in France and Belgium and also in Egypt and Palestine.

In Canterbury on 12th August 1914 men started to report to the mobilisation camp at the Addington Showgrounds to establish a mounted rifle brigade. Many had brought their own horses and where suitable these animals were taken into service by the government and then re-issued for use to their former owners. Many more reported than were taken into the regiment and the medical test was a significant reason for large numbers to be turned away.

The regiment was equipped and trained at Addington and Sockburn until 23 September 1914. In the early hours of the morning the Canterbury Mounted Rifles left the mobilisation camp for the last time and rode to Lyttelton. Their route took them across the Avon where they watered their horses, on over the Heathcote Bridge, Ferry Road and through Sumner to the transport ships. They were taken first to Wellington and in October that year they sailed for Egypt via Australia and Sri Lanka.

Want to know more about the outbreak of war or about how to research those who took part?

Want to find out about projects to commemorate the war?

War books in Gale Virtual Reference Library

Gale Virtual Reference Library gives you access to over 200 electronic reference books covering virtually any subject, including health, business, careers, history, literature, biography, science, travel and more.

Some war-related titles have just been added to this colllection:

Cover of Auschwitz Cover of Hiroshima Cover of The Normandy beaches

Freegal: Anzac Day edition

Christchurch music lovers – every week get your Freegal on and download your three free music MP3s.

This week the theme is Anzac Day.

album coverAnzac3

album coverAnzac4