Saturday, April 06, 2013

Maggie Rainey-Smith reports on a special book launch in Wellington

On Thursday evening I joined the festive crowd at the Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie for the Wellington launch of “Anzac Day, The New Zealand Story – what it is and why it matters” by Philippa Werry.  
The room was full of well known faces, Fleur Beale, Frances Cherry, Fifi Colston, Barbara Murison, Susan Price, Mandy Hagar ... I’m bound to have left someone famous out, but you get the picture.  Stephen Clark, Chief Executive of the RSA, was there to officially launch the book and most enthusiastic that such a book has been published.     And, as always, John and Ruth McIntyre and their team, turned on a very special and warm welcome to us all.

                  Philippa Werry has done meticulous research to produce  a glossy pictorial and informative  New Zealand guide to Anzac Day – and especially, as it says on the front cover ‘What it is and why it matters’.   The book is full of photographs and fascinating snippets of history that together bring the story of Anzac into perspective.   It tells a big story in informative snippets, carefully chosen.  My favourite is a quote from Bertrand Russell “War does not determine who is right, only who is left”.  The most heart-breaking entry is a translated letter from a Turkish front-line soldier to his family back home.  And the book ends with the beautiful poem by Alistair Te Ariki Campbell ‘Gallipoli Peninsula’.

                The book is suitable for a wide range of reading up to and including adults, but aimed at the younger school age, (I think) as a very useful resource book for teachers or parents wanting to explain why New Zealanders turn up in droves at Dawn (or later in the morning) each April 25, wearing red poppies.   Personally, Anzac Day means a lot to me because like many baby boomers, my father was in the Second World War, and for the author, the book is dedicated to both her grandfathers who served in the First World War, as well as to a great-great-aunt who served as a nurse.

                 I doubt there is a family in New Zealand who isn’t in some way affected by this story (the Korean War, the Vietnam War and more recently troops in Afghanistan and Iraq).   It certainly is not a book glorifying war, and it includes information about all sides of this conflict, New Zealand, Australia, France, Britain, Turkey, the death toll.   And then, helpfully, at the back, along with the bibliography (testimony to the meticulous research) is a page titled ‘More things to do’ which gives encouragement and ideas to students and readers on how to find out more for themselves – for example go and visit your local war memorial, find out who built it, what information it contains and which families still live in the area, or a recommendation to see the play ‘King and Country’ by Dave Armstrong – just a couple of the handy tips for students.

                Anzac Day is just around the corner, so if you have a child, grandchild or family friend who you would like to buy a gift for – this is the perfect purchase – it is a book for all ages, a timely reminder of who we are, and as Bertrand Russell said – the ones who are left. 
Anzac Day, The New Zealand Story  - Stephen Clarke, Chief Executive of the RSA, launching the book

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