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4 January 2013
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In love and war
So much has changed that it is almost impossible, from our gener-
ally comfortable existence in present day New Zealand, to grasp
the lives of our country's largely rural workforce in the years
before the Second World War.
After the Great Depression of the early 1930s, life on the land
was often an existence of unremitting toil from dawn until long
after dark, unrelieved by the slightest luxury. Big families and
scarce amenities like electricity
took their toll on women too and
both sexes were constrained in
a world of limited opportunity
with little awareness of inter-
national trends or other coun-
Into this scene burst the
Second World War. There were
jobs for women and a multitude
of young men saw enlisting as
a chance for adventure and to
see the world and escape a life
soldiers shaped a different New
Zealand. They sparked the
thirst for the great OE. Those that survived had been exposed to
horrendous events but also seen places and experienced different
cultures which, in the pressure cooker of war with its uncertainties
and hardships, made a lasting impression.
And some had found love amidst the strife and mayhem.
Particularly in rural Italy, to which men related from their pastoral
background here, New Zealand soldiers formed romantic relations
across the cultures with many surviving as lifelong marriages
when they brought their brides back to New Zealand.
These are the themes of In Love and War by Auckland teacher
and writer Susan Jacobs.
Susan Jacobs is perhaps the one person who could bring
such a book to print. A scholar and teacher of Italian literature at
Auckland University, she has lived in the Tuscan and Umbrian
regions of Italy, studied Italian and taught English there, and her
frst book, Fighting with the Enemy, told the story of New Zealand
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prisoners-of-war and their relationships with the Italian resis-
tance. Only her fuency and empathy for Italians has made these
In her latest research, she follows New Zealand soldiers from
the desert campaigns in North Africa to the mountains of Greece
and then, in 1943 after Armistice with Italy, as they fought their
way up the Italian peninsula after the German army which was
ruthless in retreat and now treated Italians as traitors.
While the New Zealand command did their best to curtail
fraternisation between Kiwi soldiers and the civilian population,
it was a lost cause.
The fought over countryside was a shambles and food was
scarce while in places the front line was hard to determine.
Many men owed their lives to Italian families who had shel-
tered them at risk of their own lives, and opened their homes and
their hearts to their liberators.
As the front line moved north, there were lovely young Italian
signorinas everywhere and every excuse for dalliance.
As well as quoting from offcial reports and describing the
circumstances of the allied soldiers, In Love and War tells of
liaisons and love affairs, some of which ended up in heartbreak-
ing separation, even misunderstanding, some left behind chil-
dren who would grow up not ever meeting their natural fathers,
and some brought young Italian women to the other side of the
Here they were often embraced by a new family, sometimes
rejected, but always to fnd life very different.
And the author tackled this story only just in time, as many
of these couples she was able to interview and whose stories she
is able to tell have since passed on leaving both poignant memo-
ries and in some cases large families frmly established in Kiwi
We must collectively count it as a blessing that many of these
brave young brides and their New Zealand husbands were, in
later years, able to make return visits to their families in Italy and
renew their bonds with kin and place before they died.
This book is very far from a dry war history.
In Love and War
Penguin Group 2012
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