Oral history on World War Two POWs to be published in 2002

  • Helen Clark
Arts, Culture and Heritage

Recording an oral history of prisoners of war will ensure that an important but relatively neglected aspect of New Zealand's wartime experience is preserved for future generations, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Helen Clark said today.

Helen Clark announced the oral history project, to be carried out by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, at a Parliamentary function for New Zealanders imprisoned by the Japanese during the Second World War.

"Today, 'VJ Day', marks the fifty-sixth anniversary of the end of the war in the war in the Pacific following Japan's surrender to the Allies.

"Most of the official histories of New Zealand in the Second World War concentrate on purely military matters, with extensive and sometimes rather dry accounts of battles won and lost across the different theatres of war in which New Zealanders participated.

"Thousands of New Zealander soldiers, however, spent much of the Second World War as POWs in Germany, Italy and the Far East. They contended with hunger, misery, and boredom for years on end.

"Over 8,000 New Zealanders were imprisoned by the Germans and Italians, while 300 were captured by the Japanese.

"POWs and civilian internees held in Japanese camps were subjected to particularly appalling treatment.

"In recognition of their suffering, former New Zealand Far East POWs and civilian internees were each awarded $30,000 by the New Zealand government in April of this year.

"Sadly the passage of time has meant that the voices of many POWs have been lost forever. The oral history project I have announced today represents a last chance to record an essential chapter in New Zealand's wartime experience.

"This new project follows the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's publication of an oral history of the Battle of Crete, A Unique Sort of Battle. I am delighted that this book, ably edited by Megan Hutching, has become a bestseller, proving that New Zealanders remain fascinated by their country's stories from the Second World War.

"The new oral history will be published next year," Helen Clark said.

Contact: Mark Watts, press secretary, 021 822 734