The Big Show: New Zealanders, D-Day and the War in Europe.
Alison Parr, an oral historian with New Zealand's Ministry for Culture and Heritage, has written a first-rate book that details a little known chapter of the global World War II experience. In The Big Show: New Zealanders, D-Day and the War in Europe, Parr illustrates the broad range of contributions made by New Zealand, a member of the British Empire. This volume is produced from interviews conducted as part of the "From Memory" war oral history project, sponsored by the government of New Zealand. Featured here are detailed accounts of thirteen New Zealanders who served either in Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) or its Royal Navy, and one intriguing chapter with the recollections of a French resistance fighter, Lucienne Vouzelaud.
The Big Show is organized around a central event, the Allied landings of June 6, 1944 in Normandy, and the participation there by thirteen of the narrators. But this book also proves to be much more than just another D-Day volume--The Big Show effectively portrays the enormous, life-changing impacts on these men as they left homes and lives in small New Zealand communities and farms to go to training and duty stations in Canada, England, continental Europe and places in between. In addition, the author nicely unpacks these D-Day stories, both backward and forward, to reveal more completely the wartime service of these men and its multiple effects. From varied pasts, their lives cross at this central point and then continue on many separate paths. This format is effective in illustrating the complex nature of events during wartime.
Author Alison Parr provides a valuable and informative twenty-three page introduction which places the role of New Zealand's fighting men and women in the general context of events in Europe after 1939 and especially the run-up to June 1944. Readers outside New Zealand likely will be surprised at the extent of that country's involvement in World War II: tens of thousands of men served overseas, in numerous RAF units and on dozens of Royal Navy ships. In addition, there were seven separate New Zealand squadrons in the RAF, and Royal New Zealand Navy ships participated in all major theaters of operation. Proportionately, New Zealand's contribution to the war was unmatched anywhere else in the British Empire. From a wartime population of 1.6 million, a greater proportion were killed than in any other part of the empire. In all, 11,671 New Zealanders were killed during 1939-45, which corresponds to a rate more than two-and-a-half times higher than United States' deaths during that war.
The fourteen narrators included in The Big Show were selected from a larger collection of theme-specific interviews conducted by New Zealand's Ministry for Culture and Heritage (all interviews have been catalogued and archived). As the introduction explains, the goal was a broadly representative sample of New Zealanders serving in Europe in the British armed forces. Each narrator in The Big Show is featured in an individual chapter. Here oral history excerpts--many of them long segments-are interwoven with the author's narrative text. Parr's text provides the framework necessary to understand and appreciate the memories recalled here, but it never intrudes or overwhelms the subject's voice.
This engaging book brings fascinating stories to life. For example, Flying Officer Trevor Mullinder's D-Day contributions ended five days after the landing when his plane was shot down over France. He then spent eleven months as a POW in Germany, and he takes readers into the prison camp. Leading Seaman Terry Scott's ship HMS Lawford was sunk in the English Channel soon after the invasion Scott was pulled from the water by a rescue vessel, and he was forced to follow the remainder of the invasion action from a distance. The account shared by Lucienne Vouzelaud is a most interesting addition, and further broadens the spectrum of memories in the book. This French resistance worker helped a total of thirteen downed Allied airmen evade capture by the Germans and make their way back to Allied lines; one of those men was the New Zealand pilot John Morris.
Among the other strengths of The Big Show is the overall organization: individual accounts as opposed to a strict chronological treatment. This format allows the reader to select narrators in any order. The period photographs and documents further help to bring each subject to life. Chapters feature visual images that take the reader on board ship, out to the airfields, or on leave with friends and colleagues. Shortcomings include a lack of endnotes, and a limited number of titles for further reading. Those wishing to perform additional research would need to look elsewhere for assistance.
This quality volume deserves a wide readership, however. It demonstrates a very effective use of oral history evidence: testimony is interwoven with explanatory narrative and is accompanied by appropriate images to help readers gain a true sense of the individual and his or her life. One hopes other similar volumes may appear, perhaps featuring accounts from the Pacific Theater. Scholars, well as interested lay readers, will find this an excellent addition to their libraries because it illuminates important but heretofore little-known contributions to the war. Historical sites and institutes would be advised to use The Big Show as a model for publications of their own.
Concordia University, St. Paul
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|Publication:||The Oral History Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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