First novel deeply personal for Hall

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Greg Hall says his first novel is the perfect tribute to family members with strong Oamaru links who fought during World War 1.

Mr Hall, born in Oamaru and now based in Auckland, has written Good Sons, a novel that focuses on three young Oamaru men – Frank Wilson, Tom Davis and Robert Sutherland – growing up in early 1914 as war looms in Europe.

It follows them from their education at Waitaki Boys’ High School and military enlistment to their training in the North Island and eventual deployment to the battlefields of France.

For Mr Hall, the book was a deeply personal venture.

His grandfather, Harold Torrens Hall, a lieutenant with the 3rd NZRB, served in France in 1918. He was wounded twice and returned to New Zealand after serving with the army of occupation in Germany in late 1918 to 1919.

Mr Hall’s grandfather was a pupil at Waitaki Boys’, and would later become a master there for 40 years.

Another relative, Mr Hall’s great-uncle Forester Charles Kent, a lance sergeant with the 10th (North Otago) Regiment, also fought in the war. He was killed in action on May 2, 1915.

Mr Hall said the idea for what would eventually become a novel was sown about 30 years ago, when he started to become aware of his family’s involvement in World War 1.

“Both of them were Oamaru boys,” he said of his grandfather and great-uncle.

“Their association with Oamaru got me going. Once I became aware of their involvement, I started doing a lot of reading about the war. I read history, fiction, poems, non-fiction and became more and more interested in the boys who were involved in the war.

“Their memory was worth preserving. They were ordinary people.”

He said the young men who fought were “treated like pawns and wasted by generals, kings, emperors and politicians”, which he believed was the greatest tragedy of the conflict.

The book illustrates what was happening overseas at the time each chapter is set through Oamaru Mail and Otago Daily Times stories and casualty lists.

Initially, Mr Hall did not plan to use them.

“It happened by accident. I was using Papers Past as one of my research tools, particularly around the notification of deaths at Gallipoli, which were trickling through the Oamaru Mail from May 1915 onwards. Then a full list of North Otago men killed was published in June.

“I decided to use them as chapter openers, to give people an idea of the activity that was going on at the time that was pertinent to the war and the home front.”

He planned to write another novel in the future along the same lines, but “set probably 80 years after the first world war”.

“It’ll tell a more modern story.”

Mr Hall will talk about his book at the Oamaru Public Library on April 11.