David Hill reviews The Front Line


‘What are the great war photos? Alexander Gardner’s rag bundles of Confederate dead after the 1862 Battle of Antietam. Capra’s Republican infantryman flung backwards by a bullet's impact in the Spanish Civil War. Nine-year-old Phan Thi Kim Thuc fleeing, naked, napalm-seared and screaming, from her Vietnamese village. You’ll have your own list. Often, they focus on an individual; evoke the life beyond combat or collateral damage.

‘From this book, I’ll pick enemy parachutes flecking the sky above Crete, while a burning transport plane plummets down. (I remember another of my uncles telling me with head bent how he and other NZ troops shot the paratroopers as they drifted to Earth. “Poor bastards. We could hear them screaming.”)

‘There’s the letter from “The British Free Corps,” an SS unit of Allied prisoners recruited to fight for the Nazis (one NZer served in it); a cartoon of a Lancaster squadron in flight, crammed with busy, bright little humans; devastated Monte Cassino, resembling Hiroshima in its obliteration. Most of all, perhaps, there’s the frightened German POW captured at Sidi Rezegh. He’s 15 years old. Once again, you’ll make your own list.

‘“My subject is War, and the Pity of War,” Wilfred Owen wrote in 1918, a few months before he was killed during the last week of WWI. “The Poetry is in the Pity.” Pity, pathos, pomp and many other emotions are evoked in this collection, too. An authoritative and frequently affecting book. I can say so without – ta-da – any inhibitions.’

Read the full review here.