The Territorials by Peter Cooke and John Crawford review

by Fiona Rae / 11 February, 2012
A history of our citizen-soldiery was overdue, but this one lacks sparkle.
Once upon a time, we were a nation of "weekend warriors" – the Territorials, an institution variously dreaded, accepted or fondly remembered by generations. The story of our "Terries" is long overdue for the telling and New Zealand Defence Force historian John Crawford and independent historian Peter Cooke have filled the gap with a history of New Zealand's citizen-soldiery commissioned by the NZDF.

This is an impressive tome – case-bound, fabulously illustrated, a joyful expression of book-making art. There is even a bookmark bound into the spine. Wonderful stuff. The picture selection and reproduction is superb, as are the colour maps showing unit locations around New Zealand. The research is impeccably detailed.

Unfortunately, Cooke and Crawford have presented much of this in a passive writing style so awkwardly phrased, in places, as to have a certain inept charm: "Despite national service having ended, its enabling act was retained pending new legislation to carry on the employment protection." Or: "With the Territorial units formed, men posted to them and the administrative and training support in place, training of the new force could begin." The flow is sometimes broken by extra data or qualifying comments in parentheses. Although some chapters are better, the clumsy barrage makes the overall book a slog to read.

The more crucial problem is a lack of wider human interpretation. The text is a narrative that focuses heavily on administrative change and policy development. Cooke and Crawford tell us what happened, often in infinitesimal detail – even devoting five pages to reproducing an Order of Battle. But they do not particularly explain why or much explore the human depth. There are potted biographies of leading figures, but other than James Stichbury's diary, isolated in a sidebar, there is little on individual Terries as people – their words, thoughts, impressions. In short, what it was like as a human experience.

This is what makes history meaningful, and it is not as if the story has been lost – there are diaries, letters, people to talk to. A generously large infusion of their words and emotions would have nourished the reading experience. To me, the standards for public military history were set over 50 years ago by the first generation of government war historians – highlighted by Dan Davin's Crete. The Territorials has nothing of that sparkle.


Matthew Wright is one of New Zealand’s most published historians. He blogs at
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


MetroLOLs for January
85710 2018-01-18 00:00:00Z Humour

MetroLOLs for January

by Metro

This month's LOLs include: Things your office is planning to implement in 2018 to “cater to millennials”.

Read more
Ending solo mum sanction could cost govt $25m a year
85960 2018-01-17 13:14:44Z Social issues

Ending solo mum sanction could cost govt $25m a ye…

by Craig McCulloch

Officials warn the cost could blow out "considerably" if the plan encourages more mothers not to name their baby's father.

Read more
Confessions of a shoplifter
85914 2018-01-17 07:11:11Z Crime

Confessions of a shoplifter

by Anonymous

A sticky-fingered habit finally catches up with a young Kiwi crim, who discovers the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Read more
Tidy Kiwis? We generate 734kg of waste each per year - and it's growing
85908 2018-01-17 06:59:32Z Environment

Tidy Kiwis? We generate 734kg of waste each per ye…

by Nita Blake-Persen

The government is vowing to cut the amount of waste New Zealanders create, which is estimated to be among the highest in the developed world.

Read more
Catholic Church wants child abuse inquiry to be wider
85904 2018-01-17 06:36:54Z Social issues

Catholic Church wants child abuse inquiry to be wi…

by Mei Heron

The Catholic Church is disappointed a Government inquiry into state abuse of children may not expand to include faith-based institutions.

Read more
The troubling rise of Australia's new Attorney-General
85835 2018-01-17 00:00:00Z World

The troubling rise of Australia's new Attorney-Gen…

by Bernard Lagan

The relatively young Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter has a track record in law and order that unsettles many.

Read more
The film-maker who risked death by sugar is fighting fit again
85890 2018-01-17 00:00:00Z Health

The film-maker who risked death by sugar is fighti…

by Nicky Pellegrino

For his documentary That Sugar Film, Damon Gameau consumed 40 teaspoons of the sweet stuff a day.

Read more
Auckland's best cafes 2018
84457 2018-01-17 00:00:00Z Dining

Auckland's best cafes 2018

by Metro

A swarm of new entrants elbow their way onto Metro's annual list of outstanding places for coffee and so much more.

Read more