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The Home Front Volume I


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NEW Zealand has industriously recorded its participation in the Second World War. Forty-four solid books about the forces, accounts of army, navy and air force operations, of medical matters and prisoners of war, of special military units, are rounded off with ‘The New Zealand People at War’, a series of three titles on civilian aspects. Professor F. L. W. Wood’s Political and External Affairs (1958) and J. V. T. Baker’s War Economy (1965), close-packed mines of information, perception and assessment, have long proved their worth. Straggling up years behind, but closely linked with both, The Home Front seeks to cover areas which may have been touched upon but were not dealt with. The term ‘grass-roots’ inevitably, if presumptuously, comes to mind in this attempt at a social history of a community during six years when its main energies were directed to war. Despite the comprehensive treatment, readers will certainly think of things that are untouched. The social elements of history invite almost limitless exploration, illustration and qualification. Even two volumes impose stringent limits: the original draft was cut by about 150 000 words. Most of this pruning was healthy condensation and trimming of illustrative detail, but a few background pieces had to join the scrap-pile. The topics treated and the extent of the treatment are to some degree subjective; another person could have produced a very different account. I have felt throughout that I have merely scratched the surface and further material will certainly be found to cast new light on dim or unknown places. I hope that this is but a start on the social history of New Zealand in the Second World War and that others will pursue further the many enticing topics merely touched on here, let alone those untouched.

Newspapers were a main source, and the liberal access that I was given to those held by the General Assembly Library has been vital. I am deeply grateful to successive Librarians, James Wilson, Hillas MacLean and Ian Mathieson, and their staffs, for use of this material and other assistance. In the war years, through the Press Association, many local reports appeared in very similar form in papers far from their starting places. Sometimes where a report of, say, a Wellington incident was first noticed in an Auckland paper, it may be attributed to that source if Wellington papers seen later showed much the same story. Occasionally, more distant papers even printed an extra detail or two; sometimes special correspondents gave a little more information. Investigative journalism had not arrived in New Zealand page xii and the description of press censorship in the text indicates the limitations. But newspaper reports, editorials and correspondence taken together give something of the situation as presented to and understood by people at the time. In many cases, information now available from official sources has filled in the gaps and, wherever possible, events are depicted more as they really happened than as wartime restrictions permitted people to perceive them. Nevertheless, it has been part of my purpose to make clear both versions.

I am deeply grateful to Michael Hitchings and his staff at the Hocken Library, University of Otago, for making the J. T. Paul Papers available most freely. The Alexander Turnbull Library, under A. G. Bagnall and J. E. Traue, has been very helpful, as always. National Archives, under the late John Pascoe and Judith Hornabrook, assisted me greatly in lending the relevant narratives prepared by the War History Branch and in producing records of departmental war effort. From the latter I am sure that future and more specialised histories will find much that space would not permit to be probed here.

I thank the Department of Labour for the use of an MS register of strikes. I am indebted also to all the people who responded to an appeal made in the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly in 1969 for ration books and recollections. The ration books formed a mosaic evoking domestic limitations that are hard to imagine or even remember when shops are crammed. Of the recollections, a few quoted directly are acknowledged in the footnotes; all of them added to my understanding and, often invisibly, have helped to shape presentation. Because so many are thus hidden, I have not included in the list of sources used those actually quoted.

Special thanks go to the late Reverend Ormond Burton, who gave much information and illumination on the pacifist movement, and to Professor J. R. McCreary, who read over and added to the section on conscientious objectors. Janet Paul’s guidance in the piece on painting was almost the writing of it.

Finally, most profound thanks are due to the Historical Publications Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs. Penelope Wheeler is entirely responsible for the biographical footnotes, apart from a great deal of diligent typing and general editorial work. Ian Wards, as editor, has been infinitely patient, stimulating and exacting in the search towards clarity, accuracy and proportion. Adequate thanks are impossible, but it should be known that he has knocked out a great many faults and bulges, demanded checks, encouraged, worked over problems, and polished everywhere, his zeal lit always with understanding and humour. Any merits are much of his making.

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Special thanks also go to Ian McGibbon, the current Chief Historian, and proofreader Maree McKenzie for their exacting labours in seeing the work through the press, and to the Government Printing Office staff for their contribution to the production of this book. The index was compiled by Debbie Jones.

N. M. T.

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