Looking anew at war, Thomas Gawn
Dig for Victory
Dig for Victory, by David Hair, is a novel that shows the different aspects of war and is told from the perspectives of Leith McArran and Tamati Baines in 1916. When war is rampant throughout Europe, Leith McArran joined “the great adventure” with his brother Callum. Yet their unit, the Otago Mounted Rifles, was shattered in Gallipoli and now must merge with the new Māori contingents to form a new battalion of “Pioneers” doing the behind-the-scenes work; but, “We are not happy – we want to fight not dig holes.”
The book shows a different side of war from Leith’s perspective, and this is the side that is hidden behind all the fighting and sacrifice: the unsung heroes digging the trenches in the dead of night with flooding, lice and poor hygiene to deal with. But, also, Tamati joined the army before he was 18 and now must deal with a new life. He is now busy running important messages through the lines and has dreams which he believes mean something: “The red butterflies mean death is near, or they mean you.” He is now paranoid that his own death is near. They must both overcome their fears and continue to fight the war in their different yet important ways, but there is a spy amongst them and all their secrets and tactics are now being transmitted to German forces and no one is sure of one another.
In the novel there is an underlining theme of how war isn’t an adventure, in which you go sight-seeing throughout the world and every so often you have to go in the trenches to fight for a couple of hours. Instead, war is much more than that: it’s tough, brutal and ugly, not to be taken lightly and definitely not for the weak-hearted (like Tamati, who joined to have a place to stay and a consistent food source).
But the book also shows us the strength of comradeship and the true trust of friends, which is a nice part of the book to give balance to the harshness of war and its fatalities, which can become overpowering to read all at once.
I found this a very enjoyable novel to read and, even though it was a fictional story, it gave insights to war that very few people know about, since most people only know about the actual fighting and not the digging or some of the transportation and that has given me an even greater appreciation of the people who served in WWI and any other war or conflict and the brutal conditions they had to deal with to survive and win the war. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes action or adventure, If you like New Zealand history then you might say that this book is just someone’s own idea of what happened, but this book has shown me so much more than a good adventure: it has enlightened me about what happened in those trenches. I hope you enjoy this book just as much as I have.
Reviewed by Thomas Gawn.