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Forts and Works, number 11 (June 2001)

Home Service History

Home Service History

A final sad chapter in our soldiers' story telling was the history of the military efforts in New Zealand. The War History Branch did start with the idea of a home defence history in 1947 after requests for such by many ex-servicemen. The Gisborne Herald reported on 11 July 1947 that branches of the NZ Home servicemen's Assn had been asked by Gen Kippenberger to collect information on camps and camp life experiences for a possible home service history. Also other NZ-based units received attention. Major JL Turnbull worked out of Room 117 at Army HQ compiling a narrative on the NZ Home Guard, a force that took in 7.5% of the population. Individupals were invited to write histories of their own units and narratives, for example, on 1 and 2 Special Companies, 18 AA Bty, Field Ambulances or the Ravensthorp hospital were written and submitted.

This home service history project, however, fell by the wayside as the branch concentrated on its overseas histories. The Editor-in-Chief had to let down the Home servicemens Assn in August 1952: "I regret to have to in-form you that it is not intended to prepare a history of the NZ Army in NZ, 1939 /45. The task would be a prodigious one and it would be impossible to prepare a history of any interest without giving away secrets and infringing security regulations to a dangerous degree." This scare mongering is presumably doffing the hat towards Cold War defence paranoia, but it didn't assuage the HSA.

The Association lobbied Hilda Ross MP to support its call for "a war history of the three armed services" but in her letter to the Minister of Internal Affairs WA Bodkin in November 1952 she did not put their case. "Personally speaking [she said], as one of the women of NZ who rendered some service, I think this is a very unreason-able attitude to take. I do not think that any of us who did the work expected or wished to be put in a book…" The Minister agreed, saying "The proposal does not seem to have much merit." Kippenberger did write a short history of the NZ Army, published in article form in the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute in 1957 and is said to have been planning a one-volume coverage of the NZ Army's efforts in WWII, but his death that year robbed us of it.

The Homeservicemen's Annual Conferences in 1959, 1960 and 1961 continued to ask the Internal Affairs Minister (now WT Anderton) for a home defence history, seeing its absence as "a lack of tribute to all Servicemen concerned". They even managed to get a question asked in the House in July 1960 from EP Aderman, New Plymouth. To this the Minister said "the late Gen Kippenberger and present editor [Fairbrother]… have stated that there is not sufficient interesting material to justify the expense involved in producing a separate volume." A final 'No' to the lobbying came from the Minister on 17 November 1961. Two decades later Dr Nancy Taylor was under contract to write a book that was published in 1986 as the two-volume The Home Front. But this also would not have satisfied ex-home servicemen as it is more a social history of the war effort, made without reference it seems to a single service file, than a history of military defence of these islands.

So while NZ was not lavished with volumes of information on defending New Zealand, our ramparts on the sea are getting better coverage now that the awareness of the home and regional defence effort is growing.

Are any of these authors still alive?