By Sarah Johnston (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)
Author William Moloney never met his grandfather, Christchurch lawyer J.K. Moloney, as he died in 1971, a few years before he was born.
However, the discovery of his grandfather’s World War I diary in archives in Wellington has become the basis for his new book, The Battle of Messines Road, that explores the effects of war. Set during the time of the Vietnam War, the book is a combination of novel and war diary. It tells the story of Zac, a willful 10-year-old boy, who becomes fascinated by an old man’s war-time adventures as he reads his World War I diary.
J.K. Moloney died in 1971. Unbeknownst to the family, he had written a war diary which had been acquired by the National Library. It was not until the family started seeing quotes from J.K. Moloney in New Zealand military histories around 2000 that they got to read it for themselves.
While researching his grandfather, William Moloney came across archival sound recordings of J.K. (John Keith) which are held in the sound collection of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. J.K. Moloney was a Christchurch lawyer and keen rugby supporter. He served as President of the Canterbury Rugby Union and recorded several radio programmes in the 1960s about Christchurch sports history. These included his memories of, as a small boy, watching the famous 1904 game against a touring British side, which was played in heavy snow at Lancaster Park.
He also recorded a short recollection – possible an extract from his war diary – of his experiences on the Western Front during World War I, serving with the Canterbury Infantry Battalion.
His recollection of the battlefield at Passchendaele was one of the first recordings by a World War I veteran that I listened to, when I began researching our WWI-related recordings over three years ago. As you can hear, the short but vivid description captures the mud and horror and the efforts of the Māori Pioneer battalion to rescue wounded New Zealand men.
Hero image: Cover of the book, 'The Battle of Messines Road'.