Fit to Fight
What do Colin Meads and Carmen have in common? Or Barry Brickell, Jim Bolger, John Hawkesby, Paul Reeves and Witi Ihimaera? They all took part in compulsory military training (CMT). Just four years after the greatest war the planet had witnessed, New Zealand thought it was going to have to do it all again. As the Cold War brewed over ideology and atom bombs, New Zealand determined to play its part in collective security. People argued over how to raise the necessary force but the country willingly adopted Compulsory Military Training. Young men were registered, examined and forced to learn basic Army, Navy or Air Force skills. In this ground– breaking study, military historian Peter Cooke follows these men through the process of being given a number, called up and regimented. The voices of over 830 trainees are heard as they fill out Labour Department forms, try for a postponement and shuffle into barracks. We witness them getting shouted at, broken — and begrudging the discipline, discomfort and NCOs. But then over three months we see them emerging as confident, disciplined cogs in a machine.
In almost a quarter century, around 100,000 young New Zealand men were trained in CMT and National Service. This was felt to be essential at the time and, thankfully, the men were never sent to war. Instead, they came out of it with something unexpected, something they’ve harboured for life – and were keen to reveal.