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Report on Experience, John Mulgan
Report on Experience, John Mulgan
John Mulgan was a New Zealander who came to Britain to study at Oxford, before joining the British Army early in the Second World War. After some time spent with the army in England and then Northern Island he was shipped out to North Africa, arriving in time for the Battle of El Alamein, before parachuting into Greece to work with the partisans.
This is not a traditional autobiography, setting down Mulgan's experiences in North Africa or Greece, but instead is a more thoughtful work, looking at the nature of the war and the British reaction to it, as well as at the nature of the war in Greece and the way in which the British missions interacted with the various Greek factions. The role of Communism is a constant threat, from Mulgan's student flirtations with the Party in England to his rather more bitter experiences with the ruthless Greek communists, for whom the battle against the Germans was a secondary concern.
When first published in 1947 Mulgan's text was modified to remove some of his more strident opinions, especially where the officer being criticized could easily be identified. In this edition the original text is restored, and as a result some of his commanding officers emerge rather badly. The changes are all footnoted and the modified text of 1947 included for comparison.
This is a thoughtful book that takes us back into the mindset of its times in a way that very few autobiographies manage, giving us a precious window into the peacetime world of the late 1930s and the war that followed.
Preface by Richard Mulgan
Foreword by M.R.D. Foot
Introduction: The Textual History, Peter Whiteford
Map of Thessaly and the Pindus Mountains
John Mulgan's Letter to Gabrielle
Report on Experience
Author: John Mulgan
Year: 2010 edition, modified from 1947 original
Gifted both academically and athletically, his New Zealand secondary education was at Wellington College (1925–27) and Auckland Grammar School (1927-29). Mulgan studied at Auckland University College (1930–32), before attending Merton College, Oxford from November 1933.  He was awarded a first in English in 1935,  and in July 1935 took up a position at the Clarendon Press.
Mulgan held leftish political views and was alarmed by the rise of fascism in Europe and the response of the British government to it. In 1936, he was an observer for the New Zealand government at the League of Nations in Geneva. During this time, he wrote a series of articles on foreign affairs, titled "Behind the Cables", for the Auckland Star newspaper.
His view that war in Europe was inevitable led Mulgan to join the Territorial Army in 1938, and he was made second lieutenant in an infantry regiment. Posted to the Middle East in 1942, Mulgan was promoted to major and made second-in-command of his regiment. He saw action at El Alamein and fought alongside the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He was impressed by the calibre of his compatriots and found meeting New Zealanders after being in England for so long to be a kind of "homecoming". He left the Royal West Kents Regiment after reporting his last Colonel as quite incompetent. 
In 1943, Mulgan joined the Special Operations Executive and was sent to Greece to coordinate guerilla action against the German forces. He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions. After the German withdrawal in 1944, Mulgan oversaw British compensation to Greek families who had helped the Allied forces.
In the evening of Anzac Day 1945, Mulgan intentionally took an overdose of morphine. Speculation continues as to why he committed suicide. He is buried at Heliopolis military cemetery in Cairo. Mulgan was survived by his wife Gabrielle (married 1937) and son Richard (born 1940).
Report on Experience
John Mulgan is famous as the author of the novel Man Alone (1939), one of the classic landmarks of a mature and independent New Zealand literature. His second book, Report on Experience, published posthumously in 1947, is one of the most clear-sighted and moving memoirs to emerge from the Second World War. From reflections on the New Zealand of his youth, Mulgan moves on to his experiences of the European war and the British army. Barracks life, the battles of El Alamein, and above all his months fighting with partisans in Axis-occupied Greece, are brought to vivid life.
&lsquoA brilliant, thoughtful exposition of what war means to a local people, and what peace might offer a post-war world.&rsquo
&mdashVincent O&rsquoSullivan, in The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature
&lsquoWhat he has to say remains fresh, original and worth reflection if we had had more John Mulgans, we might have had fewer world wars.&rsquo
&mdashM. R. D. Foot, in the foreword
This new edition of Report on Experience is the first to restore the deletions and amendments of the original edition. Edited and introduced by leading New Zealand literary scholar Peter Whiteford, it contains a Preface by the author&rsquos son, Richard Mulgan, and a Foreword by the doyen of British military historians, M. R. D. Foot.
John Mulgan was born in Christchurch to an intellectual and musical family. Author of the classic New Zealand novel, Man Alone, he spoke for the generation that grew up between the wars, engaging with aspects of New Zealand life more imaginatively than any writer since Mansfield. An athlete, scholar and serviceman in various World War II campaigns, Mulgan was part of the English academic establishment, yet staunchly opposed right-wing European politics and British foreign and social policies. He also rejected purely intellectual values and was drawn to a life of classless social exchange and simple domesticity.
FROM THE OXFORD COMPANION TO NEW ZEALAND LITERATURE
Mulgan, John (1911–45), was born in Christchurch, where his father, the poet, critic and essayist Alan Mulgan worked on the Press, and his mother Marguerite (Pickmere), one of the first women graduates of Auckland University College, was active in intellectual and musical life. Most of Mulgan’s boyhood and adolescence was spent in Auckland, apart from one year in 1926 as a boarder at Wellington College, when his parents visited Britain, and Alan wrote Home, a celebration of the heart of Empire.
Mulgan was good at sport as well as academic work, and from Auckland GS he went on to Auckland University College, where his main subjects were English and Greek. Active in student journalism, he ran foul of the college authorities in a freedom of speech controversy, and his views moved decidedly to the Left after the Auckland riots—facts which undoubtedly contributed to his not being nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship in 1932. As a student too he first revealed what would become an increasing reservation about academics and intellectuals, refusing to contribute to the self-consciously progressive Phoenix, edited by his friend James Bertram, and submitting his rather Dowsonian and vaguely melancholy poems to the less elitist Kiwi. But his preference already was for a straightforward, functional prose.
Towards the end of 1933, on money borrowed by his father and that John paid back over several years, he entered Merton College, Oxford, and two years later took a first class degree in English. At the invitation of Kenneth Sisam, himself an Auckland graduate, and now an eminent scholar and secretary to Oxford University Press, Mulgan joined the Clarendon Press, and quickly learned the skills and routines of publishing. In 1936, with his close friend Geoffrey Cox, he began a fortnightly newspaper column, ‘Behind the Cables’, which was run in the Auckland Star, and provided an alert, informed commentary on current European politics. That same year he shared a house with two other New Zealand friends, the medievalist Jack Bennett, and Ian Milner, an ardent Soviet supporter. Although repelled by right-wing European politics and British foreign and social policies, Mulgan’s leftist views remained elusive of party and doctrine. His emphasis on the individual, on modern alienation rather than political panacea, is at the core of the novel he began soon after his marriage in 1937 to a young Oxford woman, Gabrielle Wanklyn.
Mulgan took the title of Man Alone from a remark in Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, ‘a man alone ain’t got no bloody fucking chance’. This is the story of Johnson, an English survivor of the World War 1 trenches, who comes to Auckland during the Depression, is caught up in rioting, farms first in the grim northern Waikato and then in the centre of the North Island. After an affair with his boss’s M ā ori wife, and the accidental killing of the boss, he survives an epic crossing of the Kaimanawa Ranges, to leave the country and set out for the Spanish war.
Man Alone has become a classic of New Zealand fiction. It is a set text in most New Zealand courses in universities, and is often grossly misrepresented as a kind of celebration of the Kiwi bloke going it alone, getting offside with the law and women, and making a fist of it on his own terms. It also has been glibly accused of misogyny and racism. For all its local emphases and colour, the novel must be read in the context of post-war Europe, as it takes a hard look at the reality of ‘ordinary’ life, without the self-congratulatory assurances common to both British and New Zealand conservatism. The starkness of the novel is also a philosophical one. Such values as emerge are what the individual manages to put together as the historical moment allows—fiction as existentialism, before such a term became modish. At the same time as he was working on the novel, Mulgan edited for Victor Gollancz Poems of Freedom, an anthology of poets who ‘were unafraid’, and whom W.H. Auden, in his Introduction, valued not for their wisdom, but for raising their voices against oppression.
Mulgan remained at Oxford University Press, gradually extending his competence in economics and political thought, until September 1939, when he joined the 5th Battalion of the Oxford and Bucks. Much of the next two years he spent on officer training manoeuvres in Northern Ireland, at times close to where his great-grandfather had lived as a Church of Ireland cleric before emigrating to the Ulster settlement in Katikati sixty years before. During brief visits to London, Mulgan recorded a number of radio broadcasts, ‘Calling New Zealand’, which revealed a flair for radio journalism. Then in 1942 he was posted to the Middle East.
As second-in-command of an infantry regiment, Mulgan fought in the front line at Alamein. It was here, after nine years away from his country, he again met up with large numbers of New Zealanders. He was emotionally stirred by the meeting. ‘It was like coming home. They were mature men, these New Zealanders of the desert, quiet and shrewd and sceptical. They had none of the tired patience of the Englishman, nor that automatic discipline that never questions orders to see if they make sense. Everything that was good from that small, remote country had gone into them, sunshine and strength, good sense, patience, the versatility of practical men. And they marched into history.’
After the desert engagement, Mulgan risked severe consequences when he challenged the competence of his commanding officer. He transferred to another British battalion, served in Iraq, then in May 1943 he joined the Special Operations Executive with Force 133. A few months later he was parachuted into Northern Greece. For the next year he worked in guerrilla actions against the occupying German forces, and in the increasingly complex slide towards Greek civil war. He was the only SOE officer to directly command Greek andartes, and was awarded the Military Cross for his strikes against German communications. Ill and exhausted, Mulgan was flown to Cairo in October 1944, and soon after began work on Report on Experience, his account of his war years and his current thinking. He completed this during his months in Athens early in the new year, where he directed the British payment of compensation to Greek families who had assisted the Allies. Although he touches only lightly on his own extraordinary exploits of the previous twelve months, the essay is a brilliant, thoughtful exposition of what war means to a local people, and what peace might offer a post-war world. Since his meeting with New Zealanders in the North African campaign, Mulgan had thought much about his country, its singular merits and aspirations, and its possible future. Although his leisure reading while with the guerrillas had been Boswell and Gibbon, Mulgan came to reject purely intellectual values. He was now drawn to a more direct life of physical openness, classless social exchange and simple domestic satisfaction. He returned from Athens to Cairo in mid-April, where he wound up a number of obligations, including a report to the New Zealand Department of Foreign Affairs on the suitability of Greeks as immigrants, and made arrangements to transfer to the New Zealand Division. The day before that planned homecoming, as it were, on Anzac Day 1945, Mulgan took an overdose of morphia from his medical kit. The reasons for his suicide remain unexplained.
Mulgan has suffered in recent years from his reputation as ‘the golden boy’, the handsome and personable athlete and scholar, who seemed to succeed at whatever he turned his mind to. The praise of his contemporaries, his choosing to enter the English academic establishment, his impressive military career, and the instant ‘classic’ status of his work, inevitably have provoked the desire to question that reputation, and to deconstruct the race and gender issues of his novel. But his centrality to New Zealand literature and self-fashioning seems in little danger of being challenged. Although his reputation is based on only two texts, each is ground-breaking within local traditions. His novel’s direct narrative and spare diction cut through a prevalent sentimentality about both this country and Britain, and his style anticipated the tenor of much subsequent New Zealand fiction while in his final ruminative essay, Mulgan engaged with aspects of New Zealand life and character more imaginatively than any writer since *Mansfield.[Author]
Mulgan’s publications were Poems of Freedom, 1938, The Emigrants: Early Travellers in the Antipodes, with Hector Bolitho, 1939 Man Alone, 1939 Report on Experience, 1947. He also edited the Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Literature, 1939, and a work completed by D.M. Davin, Introduction to English Literature, 1947. Two essential biographical and critical studies have been written by Paul W. Day: John Mulgan, New York, 1968, and the shorter John Mulgan in the OUP ‘New Zealand Writers and their Work’ series, 1974.
Long Journey to the Border (2003). Author of the classic New Zealand novel, Man Alone, John Mulgan emerges from this penetrating biography as a man who spoke for the generation that grew up between the wars. He wrote a few days before his death: 'It took me to the age of thirty to stop being frightened, not just of physical things, but fears of what people thought of me and other fairly useless considerations.'
In plain sight, Martin Edmond
In Keats’s last letter, sent from Rome to his friend Charles Brown in England three months before he died, he writes of his “habitual feeling of my real life having passed, and that I am leading a posthumous existence”. That sentence, and in particular the eerie contradiction conjured by the phrase “posthumous existence”, reverberated in my mind as I began to read this handsome re-publication, in a fine hardback edition, of John Mulgan’s Report on Experience – which was itself written “late at night in the darkened city of Athens” and begins with the words: “It seems a long time ago now since I was young in New Zealand.”
That country is the subject of the first chapter of what is essentially a memoir of one man’s war but it is a country seen through the wrong end of the telescope: tiny, far away, but somehow also preternaturally distinct, with clear if simple outlines. It is not, however, a nostalgic view, or not primarily, because from the outset Mulgan insists he is writing for the future – of his home, of what is called the West, perhaps of the world. This twin focus, upon the personal past and the impersonal future, with a kind of willed abnegation of the present, gives the book its eerie tone – as if a man might prognosticate through an examination of his own entrails.
I had read the book before, when I cannot recall, except that it was a long time after I had read, and re-read, Mulgan’s other book, Man Alone (1939). And yet re-encountering the tone of the opening passages of Report on Experience sent me straight back to Man Alone, there to confirm the insight that the voice of the novel is that of the memoir for Man Alone also bears witness to a kind of posthumous existence, albeit of a fictional character, who comes as it were from nowhere and goes back there after the book is finished. And the fact of these two books seems to confirm what Mulgan said to his wife when he sent her the manuscript of the second: “I think every man writes in the end just as much as he has in him to say.”
Mulgan died from an overdose of morphine in his hotel room in Cairo on the night of 25 th April 1945, not so very long after he had sent the manuscript, with its covering letter (reproduced here), to New Zealand and this sequence of events, whatever the author’s intention might have been, has made it difficult not to read the book as an extended suicide note. Various interested parties, including those who provided for this edition a preface (his son Richard), a foreword (the British war historian M R D Foot) and an introduction (editor Peter Whiteford), suggest this is unfair to the author and thus also to his book but nothing I read on my latest go-through persuaded me otherwise.
Mulgan’s tone, which is stoic, not disenchanted but not enchanted either, takes the long view and remains resolutely impersonal even when relating personal anecdotes, implies the ultimate renunciation in almost every paragraph both his advice to, and predictions of, the future, read as if given by one who knows that he will not be there to see it. Furthermore, though contradictorily, this aspect of the book would have remained paramount even if its author had lived. Report on Experience attempts to say the final word on its subject, in this case Mulgan’s war experience and his subsequent death seems like the inevitable postscript.
To make the point another way we might recall two antipodean poets, each of whom outlived the exhaustion of his talent: Australian Kenneth Slessor, whose last poem, Beach Burial (1945), about the dead from the battle of El Alamein (where Mulgan fought), preceded his own death by a quarter of a century and R A K Mason, the New Zealander whose solemn tone Mulgan sometimes echoes, and whose poetic work concluded more than a decade before his death with another war poem, “Sonnet to MacArthur’s Eyes” (1950). And so we may wonder, as we also do in the case of Wilfred Owen, whether Mulgan’s commitment to, and near perfect realisation of, his particular subject matter, might also have put a term to his writing life.
Mulgan’s voice is unmistakable and his use of language is, like those of all three poets in their final poems, perfectly judged. His is a prose style formed through wide reading of classic and modern authors, from Homer to Gibbon to George Orwell, and especially of poets but it is also, and principally, indebted to actual experience of life in the world: so much so as to cause the reader to feel that the author is as incapable of falsehood as he is disinclined towards the elaboration of the decorative. There is no sentence here, as one of the commentators remarks, that cannot be understood in plain sight at first reading and each leads inevitably on to the next until the tale is done.
Concomitantly this means that there is a great deal of complexity, particularly psychological complexity, that lies outside the book’s scope and yet persists beyond its clear outlines like the blackest of shadows on a sunny day. Of course this augments both the appeal and the enigma of Report on Experience, which must be read, as it was written, with a double focus: on the one hand, for its excellent account of the 1930s in Europe, the early stages of the war in England, the campaign in North Africa and, finally, the partisan struggle in Greece and on the other, for the personal and the autobiographical clues that the author so resolutely refuses to disclose.
Report on Experience was first published in 1947 by Oxford University Press, where Mulgan worked as an editor before the war the same text was re-published twice more, in 1967 and 1984, in New Zealand. This edition, a co-production between Victoria University Press and Pen and Sword Books in the UK, is meticulously edited to conform to the author’s original draft and thereby restores material excised from all three previous editions. The most contentious passages, some of which are substantial, were originally taken out because of fears of legal action they concern two men, both lieutenant-colonels, both in their different ways incompetent, both still alive and identifiable in 1947, under whom Mulgan served during the war. Each is named in Vincent O’Sullivan’s 2003 biography Long Journey to the Border and again in footnotes here.
These character sketches show Mulgan at his best: he is judicious, sympathetic, with a complete absence of malice or any implication of personal animus and so we see these foolish men with a clarity that does not lead us to condemn them so much as lament the authority they were given. Mulgan’s ability to capture in words the quality of men he does admire, particularly those met during the partisan war in Greece, is as acute. He is even able to empathise with the communists whose work, he intuits, will be profoundly destructive of what he most values in Greek society: “Personally, I got on well with the comrades,” he writes, “but then have always felt it a weakness in myself to like and be attracted by too many different kinds of men.”
Why he should think it a weakness to be so attracted is another conundrum, one of many hidden in the text. The greatest of unanswerable questions is this: how was it that a man so clear-headed, decent, sane, modest and sensitive to the needs of others could not see a way to live in the peace that he knew was coming? Especially one with a wife and young child waiting for him at home? Or was it those very qualities, aligned with his prescience, that made post-war life impossible? A different kind of exhaustion is implied, one that we might call emotional, imaginative or even spiritual.
“All a poet can do today is warn,” wrote Wilfred Owen. And a warning of that kind is one of the purposes of Mulgan’s Report, which is addressed to a peace-time audience and includes a deal of sensible advice as well as much that is clairvoyant of times to come. Nowadays, more than half a century later, we might read it more for what it tells us of the past but, leaving aside both future and past, it can also be read for something probably unanticipated by its author: as a prose poem of remarkable grace and beauty as a classic meditation upon war and peace and as an elegy to a way of life that may have existed in the once and future country of New Zealand.
If you have information about this name, share it in the comments area below!
Numerology information Mulgan:
- Name Number: 5. Meaning: Motion, Change, Freedom, Diversity, Liberty, Choice, Interest, Search, Risk, Danger, Fear
Definition funny of Mulgan:
- 1.From the force of his mulgan, Ben could tell it was going to be a big one. 2."Hi I'm Mulgan" -Chorus of laughter-
Books about Mulgan:
- The Locust and the Bee: Predators and Creators in Capitalism's Future - Mar 9, 2015 by Geoff Mulgan
- The Political Economy of Japanese Trade Policy (Critical Studies of the Asia-Pacific) - Aug 12, 2015 by Aurelia George Mulgan and Masayoshi Honma
- Future People: A Moderate Consequentialist Account of our Obligations to Future Generations - Jan 15, 2009 by Tim Mulgan
- Ethics for a Broken World: Imagining Philosophy after Catastrophe - Dec 7, 2011 by Tim Mulgan
- Man Alone [annotated] - Mar 7, 2011 by John Mulgan
- The Importance of Ideas: 16 thoughts to get you thinking (Guardian Shorts Book 11) - Mar 20, 2014 by Nate Silver and Naomi Wolf
- The Art of Public Strategy: Mobilizing Power and Knowledge for the Common Good - Sep 1, 2010 by Geoff Mulgan
- Report on Experience: The Memoir of the Allies War - Jan 5, 2015 by John Mulgan
- Understanding Utilitarianism (Understanding Movements in Modern Thought) - Aug 21, 2014 by Tim Mulgan
- Ozawa Ichiro and Japanese Politics: Old Versus New (Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies) - Oct 27, 2014 by Aurelia George Mulgan
- Japan's Interventionist State: The Role of the MAFF (Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies) - Sep 13, 2014 by Aurelia George-Mulgan
- The Demands of Consequentialism - Dec 22, 2005 by Tim Mulgan
Wiki information Mulgan:
Geoff Mulgan CBE is Chief Executive of the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts and Visiting Professor at University College London, the London School of Economics and the University of Melbourne. Previously he was: CEO of the Young.
John Alan Edward Mulgan was a New Zealand writer, journalist and editor, and the elder son of journalist and writer Alan Mulgan. His profound influence on New Zealand literature and identity grew in the years after his death. He is best known for his.
Richard Grant Mulgan is a political scientist. He was on the 1985–86 New Zealand Royal Commission that recommended MMP representation for elections to the New Zealand Parliament. Mulgan is Professor Emeritus at the Crawford School of Economics and.
Alan Edward Mulgan OBE was a notable New Zealand journalist, writer and broadcaster. He was born in Katikati, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand on 18 May 1881, and died in Lower Hutt. In 1935, Mulgan was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal. In.
Edward Ker Mulgan was a New Zealand farmer, author, newspaper editor, teacher and school inspector. He was born in Ballynahinch, County Down, Ireland in about 1857. He is the father of Alan Edward Mulgan and grandfather of John Mulgan.
The Young Foundation is a non-profit, non-governmental think tank based in London that specializes in social innovation to tackle structural inequality. It is named after Michael Young, the British sociologist and social activist who created over 60.
Demos is a think tank based in the United Kingdom with a cross-party political viewpoint. It was founded in 1993 and specialises in social policy, developing evidence-based solutions in a range of areas, from education and skills to health and.
Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer
Thanks for posting this, Bob. An interesting viewpoint but without going into it in scholarly detail I would just point out 2 or 3 underlying fallacies. Firstly, the paper fails to distinguish between Mulgan and Curnow as critics and as creators. As critics they had a programme to 'renovate'NZ literature, a programme which can ondeed be criticised and analysed as it is here for its contradictions and shortfalls. But their fictional world is a different question: it is the creator's right to explore the corner of the universe he or she chooses. Henry James did not write a word about the situation of the Afro-American population of the United States. Does that disqualify his novels? Not at all. He was concerned with the social and psychological nuances of a highly cultured minority. So even if their position as critics was partial and incomplete, the creative universe of Mulgan, Curnow and Sargeson works according to its own internal premises and as such remains valid. Secondly, Curnow's protests against the women writers a reaction against overwhelming influence and as such has to be put in persective. The 'Great New Zealand Writer' has always been a woman: Katherine Mansfield in their day o'er strode the world like a titan, and they were desperate to escape her influence. Later we have been blessed with Janet Frame, Keri Hulme, Fluere Adcock et. al., all attracting more international critical acclaim and popularity than any of the male practitioners of the genre. So don't worry, you can keep on enjoying Arawata Bill without compromising your intellectual coherence.
Thanks James, for such an analytically sound summary. I will not only keep enjoying Arawata Bill, but all of Glover's treasures. Thanks a million.
Kia ora Bob,
Having become very immersed in the Maori world over the past number of years, I can well understand the author's point of view. White privilege becomes so prevelant and automatic in our lives we do not even see it, much less the advantages it gives us. We can afford to write from only that point of view. An indigenous poet,or author, Hone Tuwhare for instance is not allowed that luxury. In the biography of Glover I read, Tuwhare is refered to as the Maori poet, no one would ever have written of Glover as being the pakeha poet.
Having written that I most enjoyed Man Alone, and will remain a very big fan of Denis Glover as well. Just makes me think a bit more I guess.
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Thank you so much for reading my article. Its actually a stub section of my PhD so is a little out of context just on its own.
James is right, I make no distinction here between Mulgan and Glover as critics and writers. Elsewhere in my PhD I state that I am using Barthes' viewpoint that, in a ‘text’ rather than a ‘work’, the novelist becomes an entity of the text itself in that “he is inscribed into the novel like one of its characters, figured in the carpet” so that “his life is no longer the origin of his fiction, but a fiction contributing to his work.”
I wouldn't want you not to enjoy Glover - he is obviously fabulous as a poet. My great sadness is that he and the rest of the Pheonix Caxton group of writers - Fairburn, Sargeson, Curnow, etc, all colluded to exclude non Pakeha or non male viewpoints, and as a result we did not really gain the roots of our own literature in the 1930s, we lost an entire generation of female and maori writers who had a different story to tell and an equally valid, if different, world view.
I will keep following your blog, and would love to read some of your poetry.
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'Common men no longer start wars: they take part in them when someone else has started them. War nowadays is a major accident and calamity, it is a storm that is seen a long way off'
Report on Experience is an incisive and compelling memoir, written by a quietly heroic author. This brilliantly-written work provides an insight not just into the mind of the author, but the prevailing attitudes of wartime Britain and Europe.
In simple but effective prose, Mulgan traces the Allies' path to World War II and the widespread reluctance of the population to accept the reality of hostilities. Mulgan was a determined man who who was appalled by the inaction of his peers and superiors, then by the limp and unrealistic reactions to aggression.
He rallies against the folly of re-employing the same personnel, in the same offices with the same filing cabinets as those which had been used for World War I. He comments, 'The Germans, unfortunately, had a new set of files, not to say a new filing system'. He describes the camaraderie among troops, but the incompetence of many of those in positions of authority and the rigidity of the command structure.
The memoir moves on to cover his time as part of a battalion in Egypt and his first experiences of witnessing death. He then covers his time in Greece hiding with partisans. Throughout, however, this is not just a factual account but a story told poetically with spirit and insight. This new edition of the work has an introduction by the acclaimed SOE historian M R D Foot, together with a foreword by John Mulgan's son Richard.
It is a most enjoyable book is very easy to read as it takes a light-hearted view of the evilness of War.www.MilitaryArchiveResearch.com
A quiet yet important book that reveals how one individual – capable but thoughtful – reacted to the coming of war and to the war itself. This new, revised edition of the book includes an illuminating foreword by Professor M. R. D. Foot, the official historian of SOE.'Adrian Gilbert, Warbooksreview.com
Professor MRD Foot CBE, sadly passed away in 2012 but still remains a highly respected figure, whose knowledge of secret operations remains unrivalled. He regularly reviewed works in the Spectator and TLS.
New Zealand: A great escape in the footsteps of 'Man Alone'
In John Mulgan's 1939 novel Man Alone, Johnson, his solitary hero, having punched out a cop during the Queen St riots of the Depression, makes his way by freight train from Auckland to Ohakune in the central North Island. He finds work on an impoverished dairy farm in nearby Raetihi, has an affair with the farmer's wife, blows half the farmer's head off in a violent struggle with a shotgun, and takes off./>On the road to Whakapapa and Turangi. Photo / Getty Images
I thought it'd be fun to follow Johnson's subsequent journey.
But neither my companion nor I are trampers and some of Johnson's trek was to places designated worryingly by DoC as "remote experience zones". We'd go by Toyota.
We drove down from Auckland, through the Waikato with its Stockade hills and Redoubt roads and Whitmore streets and fetched up in Turangi in the early afternoon.
Here we stayed at the tremendous Turangi Kiwi Holiday Park, with a spacious and spotless cabin to ourselves — $63 the pair of us.
The Holiday Park is one of the best places I've stayed at. The ablution block signs are printed in reassuring serif font and the stools in the communal showers are cheerful beer crates, the owners having put their dough into the most powerful plumbing in the North Island with showers like floodgates on a hydro dam.
The Holiday Park used to be a Ministry of Works camp, providing accommodation for hundreds employed on power projects. Considering that before the affray in Queen St Johnson was attached to a government work scheme, this was the best possible place to start our manhunt.
In the afternoon we headed down the Desert Road.
On the right was the brilliantly lit snow-white Mt Ruapehu and left, beyond power pylons, the dark and brooding Kaimanawas, four mountain ranges cut through with rivers.
Halfway between Turangi and Waiouru, Johnson crossed from the Rangipo plateau into the Kaimanawas. That's according to Rod Orange's 2004 article in Korare, "Johnson Goes Bush", essential reading for an endeavour like this.
But to get into the Kaimanawas by car the best way is to turn left before this, about 15km from Turangi, into a road unmarked apart from a sign reading "Rangipo Power Station".
You come to a high gorge split by an ancient earthquake then pass over into the Kaimanawas. It's all bush and river and ravine. Remote experience zone.
The following day we headed for Waiouru, past roadsigns reading, "Kids getting to you? We'll sort them out. Opportunities in the NZ Army."/>Sika Deer skulls hanging above a hunting hut in the Kaimanawa Ranges. Photo / Getty Images
The sky was as grey as wet slate. There were purple clouds lying low.
At Waiouru we turned off for Ohakune and Raetihi.
In Ohakune, the railway station is probably the same as the one Johnson stepped on to in 1932.
Ohakune is a thriving resort town, while nearby Raetihi seems to have pretty much had it.
On the outskirts of Raetihi, on a hill, is a striking Ringatu temple, a copy of the Ratana one near Whanganui. In the centre of the township itself is that ever-present symbol of 19th century colonial conquest, the squat, white concrete Bank of New Zealand branch, sitting there like Queen Victoria's skirts. Even during the Depression — when Johnson was there — Raetihi was probably more prosperous than it is now, with its run-down, closed cinema, The Royal.
Back at Ohakune you can follow the mountain road Johnson climbed after fleeing Raetihi.
Half-way up toward Ruapehu is a track, cut in 1910, that leads off to a DoC cabin, Blyth Hut. Here, in an earlier corrugated iron version, Mulgan bunked down when he was a university tramper and here he has Johnson staying./>A copy of Man Alone. Photo / Dean Parker
We returned to Waiouru, took the road to Taihape and booked into the Gretna Hotel.
This was another brilliant place to stay, with hand-coloured photos of Mainbrace and Balmerino in the foyer and a sheep-shearing contest coming up in the garden bar.
It was once a two-storey wooden inn, a coach stop, then rebuilt in the 1930s. Tariff for the two of us was $84, with a $6 fry-up breakfast that obviated any need for lunch.
It was over this breakfast that we talked to our host about Johnson and he in turn filled us in with another story.
"That's a great drive," he'd said when we told him we were heading to Napier on the legendary coach road, 150km with neither store nor war memorial hall to be seen, not even abandoned ones. Then he saw our photocopied travel pieces about what to look out for — Erewhon sheep station, Ngamatea Station, the De la Terre Winery, spectacular views of Hawke's Bay — and said, "Those tell you anything about the Maori land?"
Mulgan, in his short autobiographical account Report On Experience, talks about Maori moving through New Zealand's past "like ghosts".
There were no ghosts in our host's quiet account of the past. His great-great grandfather — who had his own big sheep run until he and his iwi were arrested and imprisoned and their land confiscated — was a very palpable presence.
Two histories sit in New Zealand, side-by-side./>A ram on a hill. Photo / Dean Parker
The following day we took the coach road, "a great trip", as our host at the Gretna had described it, the road taking us high and suddenly unbending and presenting us with huge valleys in light and shadow, stretching from side to side and looking like successive brush strokes.
We were now on the other side of the Kaimanawas and stopped at the DoC campsite at Kuripapango, where across the Ngaruroro river the Kaweka mountain range reared up and the spectre of Johnson clambered down.
We drove on and turned off on the Matapiro Road and stopped at Matapiro Station where there was a beautifully cared for white-timbered red-roofed Edwardian homestead, astonishing in its assurance and Englishness.
Standing in its gardens, facing out, was a 12-pound military cannon.
I once went to the launch of a book about Mulgan's Rhodes Scholarship generation.
The launch was in Auckland at old Government House, in the gardens of the university.
Mulgan's English widow was there, up from the Waikato, and spoke. "So wonderful to be here among such history," she said, looking about her, then adding, "We don't have history like this in Hamilton."
Dean Parker's novel Johnson — a sequel to John Mulgan's classic 1939 New Zealand novel Man Alone — features in Johnson in Europe, a cabaret feature in the Auckland Writers Festival. The show is at the Limelight venue at the Aotea Centre, 7pm, May 19.
Throughout New Zealand there are many places named after ordinary New Zealanders who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Places such as Nigel, Te Whiti, Frickleton, Selwyn, and many more.
The Poppy Places Trust believes that these many hundreds of such places which, if left to history, may disappear from our collective consciousness. Our aim is to provide a "place" where these stories can be captured and forever stored. Each approved place will be marked with the placement of the official poppy flower of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Serviceman’s Association (RNZRSA).
The RNZRSA has given the Trust the authority to use the poppy and the Minister, through the New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi (NZTAWK), has authorised the poppy logo to be placed on the street signs.
The Poppy may also be placed on such places as buildings, memorials and plaques to denote a place’s significance.