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Remembering the Second World War through letters

9 August 2005

Remembering the Second World War through letters

"Prewar this cabin was for 2 people, so you can imagine that with 14 blokes plus their kit bags and sea kits, there is not a hell of a lot of room. In the morning you stretch out your hand and grab your clothes and 10 to 1 when you are dressed you have somebody else's clothes on."

Letter writing is becoming a forgotten art, but letters like this from Jack Lewis to his wife and two girls describing life on a troop ship in the Second World War were a vital link between those serving overseas and their loved ones back home.

In a talk at the National Library Auditorium this Thursday Deborah Montgomerie will read between the lines of wartime correspondence to show how New Zealanders managed the emotional and psychological challenges of war.

"An understanding of logistics, far-flung theatres of battle and the fates of armies and nations is vital, but the everydayness of war and the intimacy of individual lives can get lost in histories written on a grand scale," said Deborah Montgomerie, author of the book Love in Time of War.

"Letters get us close to the personal and psychological dimensions of war. They are chronicles of love in time of war, cries from the heart that survive the return home or death of their authors."

Letters were a way of keeping relationships with wives, girlfriends, parents and children alive during periods of long separation and hardship.

This talk is the second in a series of four being held every Thursday in August, jointly organised by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and the Alexander Turnbull Library to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the end the Second World War.

Deborah Montgomerie teaches history at the University of Auckland. Love in Time of War: Letter Writing in the Second World War is her latest book.

Further talks in this series

Thursday 18 August

Where Britain goes, we no longer go? The legacy of the Maori Battalion

The Maori Battalion took men from all over the country and showed them a way of life, and death, on the other side of the world. Sir Apirana Ngata noted that war service was the price of citizenship and Monty Soutar considers this price and examines the impact of the Battalion in post-war society.

Monty Soutar is Fellow in Maori History at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage where he is writing a history of C Company, 28 (Maori) Battalion.

Post-war? The continuing impact of the Second World War
Thursday 25 August

The damaging effects of combat can reach down through generations to have a detrimental impact on the children of war veterans. Alison Parr considers the implications of this for New Zealand.

Alison Parr is an oral historian with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage where she runs From Memory, a war oral history programme.


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