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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Groove Book Report - From the Blitz to the Burmese Jungle and Beyond, by Brian Hennessy

‘I consider myself lucky to have survived the global carnage still myself – a reluctant soldier who had to go to war, who only ever wanted peace for everyone.’ Brian Hennessy

Brian Hennessy was originally born in Cologne.  His father was in the army, like his father before and his before.  And as such, his father was stationed in Germany as part of the fallout from WWI.  He, 19r all intents and purposes and Army Brat.  His heritage also included a relative who was part of the Wild Geese, the infamous British troops stationed in Ireland from 1700 and his ancestor James Hennessy was gifted a vineyard in France where the famous Cognac was made.  In early life he had an accident involving a pram and was hospitalized for long periods of time.  It taught him about patience and survival and stood him in good stead for the future.  And what a future it was.  

He didn't want to go into the army but at the war came to him.  He was just seventeen years old and living in London when war broke out.  He experienced the Blitz first-hand.  He volunteered as a ‘roof-spotter’, trying to establish if the planes flying over were German or English.  Brian joined the British Army and upon graduating, he became the youngest armament artificer. This book tells in a very matter of fact way the true adventure story of how Brian journeyed to the remote jungles of Burma via South Africa and India and then finally Down Under. It's a memoir of World War II, the Blitz, Burma, and the devastation of Hiroshima.

His tales of skirmishes are the best.  Like the time he was caught out by Chinese troops (on the Allies side at the time) and stuck in a village with enemy on every side.  Or the time he was covered head to toe by ants, a consequence of fording the wrong river in the depths of the Burmese jungle.  At one time he was in charge of maintenance of all instruments issued to 26,000 men in 7 Divisions in Burma.  There are many other facts like this scattered through the book.  War promotes us to incomprehensible levels of responsibility, sometimes.  Each chapter is like a short story - that takes as long to read as to drain a cup of tea.  And in that they are punchy and compelling.

But this story is not a dry account, nor a lesson from an old man wanting to cash in on the current War fever surrounding the Anniversary on WWI.  It's action packed.  Danger was always present.  It opens with Brian hiding in the bushes surrounded by enemy, cowering under a rock.  It picks up the story a few chapters on as he manages to escape the impossible.  He does this many times over.  But this is not just another Commando comic.  In there are also Brian’s love of nature and his interactions with the local people – stories that are sometimes humorous, at other times poignant. At the end of the war, he took advantage of the chaos at the time, and he boarded a ship and went to Japan. There he saw first-hand the devastation at Hiroshima. he made friends and lost friends.  There are one or two heart breaking moments when he describes visiting after the fall out.

"I visited Hiroshima in April 1946," he says in his almost audible prose, "so that was some eight months after the atomic bomb had been dropped, and it was clear the devastation was immense.  There was really nothing left around ground zero....  (it was) terrible and undeniable .. But I also noticed there were green shoots sprouting from the ground and where there had been concrete framework...I didn't see any 'shadows' of the dead, but instead evidence of life."

But life did not end when Brian immigrated to New Zealand in after the war in 1952.  He married, had three children and continued to serve in the army until the mid 1960's.  He ran a dairy farm and owned a repair shop in Queens Street, Auckland.  He invented a meat grading system, currently used by twenty on EU countries in their production and quality standards.   He lived to ninety-two, but he never forgot his extraordinary war adventures. This is his story, published for the first time.  With the help of the wonderful Karen McMillan, Brian, at his advanced years, put this book together.  It is a remarkable feat.

A Memoir by Brian Hennessy

Publisher: McKenzie Publishing / RRP: $34.99, Trade Paperback / Release Date: 1 March 2017

Founded in 2013, McKenzie Publishing is an independent publisher with a catalogue of books by bestselling New Zealand author Karen McMillan, with the view to publishing other authors in the future. Publishing both non-fiction and fiction, books by McKenzie Publishing are life-affirming books that aim to enrich, entertain and uplift.

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