Ake Ake Kia Kaha E! (Forever Brave) by Wira Gardiner, David Bateman Ltd, Hobsonville, 2019, Price $49.95.
World War One centennial commemorations have faded in a publishing sense, after the scramble of activity between 2014-18, and the field of military interest has widened again.
One of the latest offerings is the immensely-readable, prodigiously-illustrated Ake Ake Kia Kaha E! by Wira Gardiner.
If military history to the general populace is about reducing the amount of jargonised description of battles and skirmishes in all their technical detail, then Gardiner has managed to tell his story appropriately.
This is written in an easy format and while dealing with military matters, as it must, it is in a readable style that those with a non-military upbringing or background can enjoy.
What will appeal most in this story of the B Company of 28 Maori Battalion is the description and personalisation of events as they affected the Company whose members were drawn largely from the Central North Island and Bay of Plenty. This is not only of the eye-catching examples of personal bravery and acumen but also of some of the less palatable behaviour of Kiwi young men overseas.
Gardiner, already a chronicler of 28 Maori Battalion nearly 20 years ago, has backed his writing with a marvellous collection of photos of many of those who were part of B Company throughout the Second World War, not the least being the roll call of all who served, with a high percentage of photographs to accompany their individual placement in a special section towards the end of the book.
But, as in all the most readable war histories, it is the personalisation of war activities that lends authenticity to the book.
There is time for a brief appreciation of what a Maori Battalion represented especially after the efforts of the Maori Contingents, the subsequent Pioneer Battalion with its mixture of Maori and Pakeha Companies, and then finally the creation of the New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion in 1917 during the First World War.
With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, much discussion occurred on the best way to involve Maori and by January 1940, 28 Maori Battalion was established. Issues of establishing the command structure of the group, and the recruiting for the Battalion are covered by Gardiner before they sailed, initially for Egypt with the Second Echelon, but then being transferred to England when the invasion of Britain appeared imminent.
Once joining the Division in Egypt, there was little time before they were shipped on to Greece and the sorry episode that resulted in the retreats from Greece and Crete, both with significant numbers left behind and to spend the rest of the war in prison camps. Stories of escape and derring-do began in those difficult days, not least being the famed bayonet charge at 42ndStreet on Crete. Accounts of the action and its aftermath make for chilling reading.
Likewise, the accounts of B Company's involvement in battles fought in the to and fro of the early years of the North African campaign are supplemented by personal description which capture the events vividly, especially in the breakout at Minqar Qaim.
Equally, the key battles at Tebaga Gap and Takrouna are brought to life, and the toll on B Company in the latter, is especially telling and evocative.
Across in Italy and with the impasse at Cassino there was some humour in one instance where a patrol under Stewart Black, that had been given instruction in mine warfare, and how to clear mines, had picked up 25 mines. At one stage they were carrying out their tasks, initially some distance from the Germans. Black related: "We got closer, ten yards, five yards and then we stood still. A section of Germans was passing us and our section passed them at the same time. They did not seem to know we were there. However, we knew they were there. They marched and we marched too into the night."
Having been close to some German pillboxes during the incident they reached the last pillbox and one of the members of the group said: "Bugger this, we're not going to come all this way without some excitement."
Black said: "He returns and lobs a grenade into the pillbox. Everything exploded. Well that was the fastest 250 yards, the fastest time in the world we ever ran."
Progress beyond Cassino was slow as they and the NZ Division crossed river after river before finally war ended with the securing of Trieste.
Gardiner's story does not end there. Returning home, and all the adjustments that took are also described while on-going activities of B Company and the Battalion overall are included to complete a full and rounded tale that is not only a worthy record of B Company but highly readable for those without any connection to the group.