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“Certainly Getting About the World”: New Zealanders’ Experience of the Middle East as a Place During the Second World War


  • Josh King



New Zealand’s longest and most important campaign of the Second World War was in the Middle East. When New Zealand’s Middle Eastern war is discussed, the focus is usually on combat and the lives of New Zealanders on the battlefield. The limited discussion of life behind the lines is dominated by a picture of racism, drunkenness and debauchery with its focal point in Cairo. This article uses primary sources, including diaries, letters and soldier publications, and focusses on how New Zealanders saw the Middle East as a place, through the lenses of the desert, the city, the Holy Land and the ancient world. An examination of these topics reveals a complex and rich picture of respect and loathing, delight and disgust, wonder and disillusionment. Such a picture shows that the one-dimensional understanding of racism and poor behaviour is an entirely inadequate representation of New Zealanders’ Middle Eastern war.


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