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North African Campaign Vets Share Their Memories

For immediate release
Monday 4 April 2005

- Oral history handover tomorrow

'You've no idea the stuff we carried on our trucks and vans. We even had a piano in one of our three-tonners. We'd flogged that from some Italian crowd.'

Stories such as these from Ian Johnston, Captain in 6 Field Regiment of the New Zealand Army during the North African campaign in World War Two, are included on the recordings to be handed over to the Turnbull Library's Oral History Centre on Tuesday 5 April 2005. (Lower Ground Conference Room, National Library Building, 12.00noon. All media representatives welcome.)

Almost half of the 16 war veterans interviewed for the book The Desert Road, edited by Megan Hutching, Senior Oral Historian with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, will be present at the ceremony to hand over the recordings of their personal experiences of war in the places of history such as El Alamein, Tripoli, Tobruk and Cairo.

'Oral history collects the stories of people, telling what they saw and did, and, most importantly, how they felt,' Ms Hutching said.

'Standard accounts of war often give the impression that battle plans are followed, troops move up in order and either succeed or are defeated. But when you listen to personal accounts, you are reminded that what is often portrayed collectively is in reality about individuals and the effect of events on them.

'On the front line people must rely on their mates, their own sense of self-preservation and their ability to adapt to circumstances beyond their control."

The 16 people whose interviews make up the book come from the 16,000-strong 2 New Zealand Division commanded by Bernard Freyberg, from the 2NZEF 'non-divisional' unit, the Long Range Desert Group, the Royal Navy and include two women who worked in hospitals and forces' clubs in Cairo.

The story of Corporal Nurse Jean Chalmers closes with her remembering: 'it was exciting, rewarding and terribly sad at times. I loved every minute of my nursing and felt so privileged to be able to help those gallant young soldiers so far from home.'


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