Soldiers' snaps bring war home

Anyone attending Anzac Day services will be left in no doubt that interest among younger Kiwis in our military history is growing.

Each year, it seems, more and more families are at these services and there is a new- found appreciation for the sacrifices made by so many all those years ago.

Two books published recently that take a closer look at our military history would be perfect Christmas gifts for anyone interested in New Zealand history.

By Glyn Harper and the National Army Museum (HarperCollins, RRP $100)

Glyn Harper has already produced a comprehensive selection of military books but this visual record of Kiwi soldiers at war is his most impressive offering to date.

Part scrapbook, part photo album, part narrative, this collection gets the reader up close and personal with the life of the New Zealand soldier during World War 1.

Despite being forbidden, many soldiers had cameras tucked away in their kitbags in 1914 and these photographs were taken by them as they went about their day-to- day business: sometimes mundane, sometimes terrifying, always fascinating.

Most of these photographs have not been published before now and many are an intimate glimpse of a time and experience that is hard to fathom for those of us fortunate enough to have never experienced war.

Originally published in 2008, this book has now been redesigned as a stunning large-format hardback.

It is a coffee-table book, but not in the arty-farty sense. It's big and bulky but not pretentious.

It is simply page after page of visual history, showing us not only the horrors or war, but also the camaraderie.

More than 800 photographs were selected from the 25,000 submitted, and they have been carefully chosen to depict each theatre of the 1914-18 war, including Gallipoli, Sinai- Palestine and the Western Front.

They range from graphic and confronting - some featuring wounded soldiers whose treatment marked the early days of plastic surgery - to poignant and heart-warming.

By Damien Fenton (Penguin, RRP $75)

In what is obviously a labour of love, historian Damien Fenton has produced a visually stunning record of New Zealand's involvement in World War 1, which is a perfect companion to Images of War.

Fenton has already shown is passion for New Zealand's military history with his earlier book on the New Zealand Army, but this book is truly amazing.

Following our story from the outbreak of war in 1914 until demobilisation in 1919, he has packed the book with 50 key incidents during the ensuing years.

While the words are important, he has made the entire history even more memorable by including more than 500 images, many of them previously unpublished.

Slide this sizeable book out of its slip cover, and you know you are about to view something special.

Presented almost like a personal scrapbook, there are fold-out maps, posters, booklets, postcards and much more, all designed to draw you in and give you a feel for just what it was like during those turbulent years.

I found I kept going back to this book, looking again at those visual details that served to bring the story of New Zealand's war to life.

Interestingly, the experiences of those at home is every bit as interesting as the experiences of those overseas.

This is a gorgeous book that should be on many Christmas wish-lists.