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New War Book: A WW2 Naval Story of Escape and Survival

An incredible war story of survival brings to light first-hand accounts of an event known within the New Zealand Navy as ‘The Great Escape’.

Close to the Wind, the debut novel by David B. Hill, honours the service of a group of Auckland yachtsmen, many teenagers, who were members of the Royal Navy Volunteer Rerserve.

In May 1940, the young men left for a war excited by an adventure at sea. Among them was Leonard Hill, a young Māori sailor, whose pathway to self-discovery, along with his friends, proved anything but ordinary. Arriving in Singapore under siege in 1942, they played to their strengths as small boat sailors, manning motor launches, raiding and evacuating Allied military from behind enemy lines on two Fairmiles. Hunted by the Japanese, many perished and some became prisoners of war. Of those who attempted to escape, only three succeeded: Leonard Hill, Herbert ‘Johnny’ Bull and Andrew Brough. This is the story of how they evaded the Japanese and survived.

The research for the book included the use of official reports, photographs, letters, oral history and video recordings, and it brings to light some information that was not readily available before.

David says, ‘For me, the most valuable sources of information – the most authentic – were the men themselves’, including information from Leonard Hill, the author’s father.

‘The reader should not think that any of them gave information easily – but what little they did give was not easy to forget,’ David continues.

This story expands on the records of ‘The Great Escape’, and introduces new information. It tells a story of the war at sea, of which there are often few witnesses, thus few stories told. It also describes the awakening of a young man to his true identity in a changing, multi-cultural world.

David is an expert storyteller, both on and off the page. In 2014, he was awarded a place on Te Papa Tupu, a six-month mentoring programme developed by the Māori Literature Trust and organised by Huia Publishers. He hopes his new book will be enjoyed by readers who enjoy historical fiction, creative non-fiction and biographies.

The Friends of the RNZN Museum Trust is hosting the book launch for Close to the Wind on Thursday 2 May at 6pm, at Torpedo Bay Navy Musuem in Devonport, Auckland. RSVP by Thursday 18 April to

Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome all.

About the author
David B. Hill (Ngāpuhi/Te Tahawai) is a writer and tour guide. From an early age, David’s passions have been history and travel, and he has spent much of his time on both. Embarking on a career as a guide as a young adult, he has travelled extensively internationally. He now focuses on leading tours closer to home and telling tourists stories of Aotearoa New Zealand.

About the publisher
Huia Publishers is an award-winning independent company producing wonderful and provocative books with a uniquely Māori and Pacific perspective.

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