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The Home Front Volume I


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THIS book is the final volume of the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War. This fact in itself immediately conjures up sharply etched pictures of notable New Zealanders who were involved in the planning and production of that multi-volumed History: Prime Minister Peter Fraser, a man of large capabilities, who had led the country firmly and perceptively throughout the greater part of the war and who worked so hard for a just peace; Dr E. H. McCormick, who had been the archivist for the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force and who was both an innovator and a prime mover in most of the proposals that led to the political decision to have the Official History written; Major-General Sir Howard Kippenberger, a great New Zealander who uniquely combined the highest soldierly and scholarly qualities, and who was appointed Editor-in-Chief in February 1946; Dr J. C. Beaglehole, that most peace-loving of men who in his role as Historical Adviser to the Department of Internal Affairs had made a challenging team-mate for that Department’s far-sighted head, Joseph Heenan, and who now made available to a small, soon to become dedicated, staff the highest precepts of scholarly performance; Professor F. L. W. Wood, always ready to wrestle with the many professional problems that continuously surrounded a project of such size and who himself wrote the volume entitled Political and External Affairs, the only major title to be reprinted; W. A. Glue, who sub-edited—or indeed in some cases edited—the complete Official History with the exception of this final volume, a contribution which has often been overlooked.

It is into this context that this book must be fitted. The final plan for the Official History divided the work into four series. The major series, ‘Campaign and Service Volumes’, comprised twenty-four volumes (including an out-of-period volume The New Zealanders in South Africa, 1899–1902), covering in separate volumes the war in the Pacific, the major campaigns such as those in Greece, Crete, Egypt and on until the final North African campaign in Tunisia, and, in two volumes, Italy. It included volumes on medical and dental services, the Royal New Zealand Navy and the Royal New Zealand Air Force; three volumes covering the activities of New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force; and three volumes of documents that go far in revealing the political involvement of New Zealand in the war.

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Then there is a series, ‘Unit Histories’, covering the units of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Middle East and Italy, twenty-one titles in all. Histories of New Zealand units which had served in the Pacific were written under separate arrangement. In this series the regiments, battalions and companies are treated informally and in sufficient detail to do justice to those who served in them.

A third series, ‘Episodes and Studies’, in which there are twenty-four titles, was published with the aim of reaching a wide public with brief but carefully compiled and illustrated accounts of specific aspects of the war, such as life aboard a troopship, coastwatching in New Zealand and the Pacific, long-range desert patrols, aerial and naval combat, and so on. There is much good history in this series.

Finally there is the fourth series, ‘The New Zealand People at War’, of which two volumes, Political and External Affairs, by F. L. W. Wood, and War Economy, by J. V. T. Baker, are already published. The Home Front, to complete the series, is very much the story of a people at war, treating the people separately from the armed services which they supported so well, so skilfully, with both love and anguish, for six years of war.

When Brigadier M. C. Fairbrother, who had become Editor-in-Chief on General Kippenberger’s death in May 1957, asked Wellington historian Nancy Taylor to undertake the research and writing of the ‘social history’, only two things were known for certain—that it was an enormous job and that Mrs Taylor was capable of doing it. Two impressive publications already stood to her credit, for she had edited Early Travellers in New Zealand and the Journal of Ensign Best. But no one had any idea of the interaction between Industry, persistence, perception, professionalism, compassion and vision, and the sheer bulk of the material that she examined. Her thoroughness, together with the many demands of her private life, explain the time it has taken to produce this book.

Mrs Taylor has arranged in orderly sequence the events that press upon civilian existence in a time of war. Some of these events are important, even dramatic, some in their gradual unfolding of seemingly slight significance. Taken together they represent elements that constitute the day-to-day preoccupations of a nation at war. Looking back, after a lapse of some forty years, we are aware that life then was very different from life today, in domestic matters, in political affairs, in religion, education and in much else. Whether as a nation we have changed for good or ill may be a matter for debate, but no one will dispute that Mrs Taylor has set out, always with clarity and often with wit, the nature of life during the Second World War.

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The book presents a carefully documented evidential account of what that life was all about. It is largely left to others to draw conclusions and to formulate social theories from the evidence. In her long and patient collection and presentation of so much material evidence, Mrs Taylor has shown herself fully entitled to be numbered with those other ‘greats’ evoked at the beginning of this Foreword.

I. McL. Wards

Chief Historian
Historical Publications Branch

29 November 1982