The Gilbert Islands in World War Two, Peter McQuarrie
Reviewed by Jeremy Shiok 31 October 2012
First, I do not know Peter McQuarrie, but I initially discovered his book 'Conflict in Kiribati - A History of the Second World War' (University of Canterbury, Christchurch, 2000) while doing my own research at the Kiribati National Archives in Bairiki, the islet just east of Betio. The archives of Kiribati are limited, but McQuarrie's work makes up for it. In 'Conflict in Kiribati' I found extraordinary details about the early 20th century history of the Gilberts, the build-up to conflict with the Japanese, their occupation of Tarawa and the neighboring atolls, and much more.
His book 'The Gilbert Islands in WWII' is an expanded edition of the before mentioned title in many ways, and presents an array of unique first-hand accounts of the history from before, during, and after the Battle of Tarawa. There is additional insight into the situations faced by the Coastwatchers and others, a fairly detailed overview of the battle, and a unique look at tragedies faced by residents across the Gilberts, especially Ocean Island (Banaba) which often receives little attention.
Most of the folks in this forum know where to turn for historical and evaluative accounts of the battle itself from the American perspective. McQuarrie, a native New Zealander and decades long resident of the islands, approaches the battle history capably, but the true strength of his work lies in the presentation of diverse perspectives of people who were there, but were not a part of the battle - the Gilbertese people themselves, British and German nationals, New Zealanders, members of the clergy, etc.
What was life like in Tarawa and the other islands before and after the battle period? McQuarrie provides several insightful answers and suggests (rightly) that Kiribati is much the way it is today because of the events of 1943 and in the immediate post-war period. After all, the war impacted far more than just those who fought, died, and remain there. The war forever changed the world for the residents of the battlefield.
Members of this forum may also find informative McQuarrie's Epilogue, which recounts the history of efforts to repatriate the remains of the missing from the immediate post-battle period through to today. The Epilogue is not exhaustive, but as a summary it provides a clear account of the early work of the U.S. military, the efforts of Mark Noah and History Flight, JPAC, and the government of New Zealand.
For me, 'Conflict in Kiribati' was a rare find that's proven to be an exceptional resource. That book is now fairly difficult to find. Luckily, 'The Gilbert Islands in WWII' is easy to find on Amazon and it serves much the same purpose. For those of us who care so much about Tarawa, the battle, and the history surrounding it, this book really is a must have. While the history presented within its covers will be familiar to many here in the forum, the details collected by Peter McQuarrie offer many distinct historical insights that other books about WWII in the Gilberts do not.McQuarrie, Peter. The Gilbert Islands in World War Two. Masalai Press; 2012. 298 pgs.
copyright 2012 T.O.T.W.
Created 27 December 2012