The Wellington public continue to be drawn in to the Unity world of warmth and words, with our latest lunchtime event bringing in the usual variety of friends, whanau and general enquiring minds. On Thursday 10 July, we were delighted to welcome Jo Elworthy to Unity to speak about her father’s wartime autobiography Greece Crete Stalag Dachau. Jack Elworthy passed away in 1999, however, with Jo’s dedicated editorial hand, his diaries have been turned into an engrossing tale that has been winning plaudits across the board.
After an introduction from Mary Varnham of Awa Press, Jo shared the general foundation of the story – a boy from Thorndon trains as a mechanic, struggles to find work due to the Great Depression, eventually joins the army… and then, shortly before his son is born, war is declared with Germany. As far as Jack was concerned, Jo told the crowd, this was his chance to go overseas and do something exciting and dangerous, his version of a big O.E. People have noted that the title reads ‘like a travel itinerary’ – and in some ways, it was – just not the trip that Jack, or his fellow soldiers had expected.
Jo’s sister Juliet read two passages from the book, both of which were hilarious and moving, which seems appropriate to the state of wartime affairs. Jo continued her general outline of the book’s arc – a rather epic story that took Jack from Stalags to the 45th Thunderbird infantry division of the US Army. Before taking questions from the crowd, she also elaborated a little on the editorial and publishing process, extolling the praises of the various archival sources that provided images and maps to help bring the book to life.
With the combined powers of Jack’s vibrant and candid writing and Jo’s efforts, Greece Crete Stalag Dachau is a powerful telling of a story we don’t hear nearly enough – ‘the nitty gritty of life of a Kiwi soldier’.
Greece Crete Stalag Dachau is available for purchase in store and from our online shop here.
Reviewed by Briar Lawry, Photos by David Broome.