Half a World Away: New Zealanders in the Middle East during the Second World War
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 thesis uses primary sources, including letters, diaries, photographs and soldier publications, and focusses on how New Zealanders saw the Middle East through the lenses of place, materiality and people. It assesses how New Zealanders experienced the Middle East as a series of geographic and imagined places, the material things they chose to acquire in those places, and the relationships they formed with the diverse range of people they encountered. An examination of these three 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, a war that would take them to Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Iran and Iraq. In moving beyond this conventional understanding, this thesis hopes to expand the picture of New Zealand’s long relationship with the Middle East – a relationship that stretches from the beaches of Gallipoli in 1915 to the mountains of Afghanistan in the present day.