Women historians writing about war are far less interested in weaponry and battles than they are
in the effect of war on human lives and society; some exceptionally insightful writing results.
More than 16,000 Kiwi servicemen fought in Italy in World War II. Some returned with Italian brides; some left behind “fatherless” children. The first part of Susan Jacobs’s intelligent and absorbing IN LOVE AND WAR: KIWI SOLDIERS’ ROMANTIC ENCOUNTERS IN WARTIME ITALY (Penguin, $39.99) analyses the social impact the Kiwi troops and Italian society had on each other, and New Zealand authorities’ fruitless attempts at controlling interaction between servicemen and signorinas. Part two tells the stories of 14 individual marriages, and the brides’ often rocky starts to married life in this country. Jacobs turns detective for one abandoned baby, successfully uniting her with Kiwi relatives.
Between 1946 and 1948, 12,000 New Zealand servicemen and women served in “J Force” – the army of occupation in Japan. Interviews with survivors form the basis of Alison Parr’s THE OCCUPIERS: NEW ZEALAND VETERANS REMEMBER POST-WAR JAPAN (Penguin, $44.99). Many were posted to rural areas to help rebuild shattered infrastructure. For some – especially those who saw the aftermath of a devastated Hiroshima – it was a life-altering awakening. For a few, notably those hostessing WAA Cs who poured tea in Kiwi servicemen’s social clubs, Japan was simply a pleasant interlude. Some found both sides had to try hard to overcome bogey beliefs instilled by war propaganda, and that working alongside each other saw a developing appreciation of the similarities between human beings.
Less-than-heroic tales common to Parr’s as well as Jacobs’s book concern Kiwis’ knack for petty theft, and the soaring prostitution and STI rates that followed soldiers in occupied countries.
Dale Williams is a writer and editor.