10 Questions with Glyn Harper


Q1: What stands out most for you about this book?

The range and quality of the photographs we were able to find: from a Nazi victory parade in Warsaw in 1939, with Adolf Hitler centre-stage, to a New Zealand warship taking part in the last bombardment of the Japanese coastline in August 1945.


Q2: What can images of war convey that words cannot?

There is some truth in the old saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. The images in this book have a power and an immediacy that is difficult to express in words. We quote from the late Sir Richard Holmes in the book that ‘somehow it is the photograph that freezes the moment for posterity’. He was right.


Q3: You must have seen a lot of photos in your research, what were you looking for in particular?

Susan Lemish and I looked at just over 30,000 images for this book. We placed a premium on live action shots and wanted to give equal weighting to the efforts of our soldiers, sailors and airmen. We were also well aware of the important roles New Zealand women performed in the war and we wanted to make sure this was reflected in the book.


Q4: Were there any images that were a particular surprise?

There were a couple of things that caught us by surprise. One was the large number of German photographs that featured in New Zealand collections. The German commander Erwin Rommel was especially popular. Another surprise was the collections of photographs by New Zealand Prisoners of War. As cameras were forbidden or strictly controlled in Prisoner of War camps, we did not expect to find as many as we did.


Q5: If you had to pick one, what it your favourite photograph from the book?

There are many interesting images, but the live-action photographs really stand out. One of my favourites is the image of a German plane on fire having been hit by New Zealand anti-aircraft gunners. It is an amazing photograph and the person taking it pressed the button at the exact right moment. Susan’s favourite is the one of a Fleet Air Arm pilot who has mistimed his landing at sea and crashed into the water. The photograph captures his look of shock and fear as his plane hits the water.


Q6: This book tells the story of all three forces. Was it harder to find material related to the navy and air force?

In the book we wanted to give equal attention to the war at sea and in the air. These parts of New Zealand’s Second World War have often been neglected. I am happy to say that we were spoilt for choice when it came to selecting the photographs for these sections of the book. There were just so many good ones to choose from and most have never been published before.


Q7: You made a point of covering all the theatres of war in which New Zealand forces fought. Was this a difficult goal?

It was difficult to cover all the theatres of war, but I think we have managed to do this. There are some areas where I would have liked to have some more images but they were not available.


Q8: Some New Zealanders served in less obvious or less well-known parts of the forces. Who do you feel has been under-represented in our military histories?

I think New Zealanders serving in Coastal Command of the RAF and the soldiers who served in the Pacific have been neglected somewhat in histories of the war. I made a point to include some images from both of these areas, but I would have liked to have found a few more photographs to include.


Q9: What are you currently working on?

I have recently been appointed the Academic Advisor of the New Zealand Army’s ‘Project 200’ which aims to record the 200-year history of the New Zealand Army. At the moment we are focusing on producing materials that could be used in New Zealand schools, such as posters, primary source documents and even some graphic novels. I also want to get back to writing some more books for children and young adults and have two on the go at the moment.


Q10: What are you reading or watching at the moment?

I thought that it was time to read a book that was not a military history. I am currently reading Tom Brooking’s Richard Seddon: King of God’s Own, the biography of New Zealand’s longest-serving Prime Minister. While it is not a military history, Seddon was, in fact, New Zealand’s first war-time Prime Minister from 1899–1902. The book is a great read.