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Book review – Breaking ranks

August 7, 2017 August 2017, Regular Features No Comments

Book review

Breaking Ranks is James McNeish’s final book, the manuscript being completed shortly before he died. This is an unusual book as it has three distinct stories, each of a New Zealander of a different time in the twentieth century. The connection being that each stuck out for what the believed to be right regardless of the considerable political and bureaucratic powers lined up against them.

The first is of Dr John Saxby who revolutionised New Zealand psychiatry. In the 1930s he set about transforming the psychiatric hospital he was given charge of introducing humane and world class mental health treatments.

Brigadier Reginald Miles was a highly regarded soldier in the early North African campaign. In 1941 his men were ordered to defend a rear guard action against an overwhelming German force. Against orders he left his command post to go forward to fight, and probably die, with his outnumbered men.

Justice Peter Mahon was chosen by P.M. Muldoon to head the Erebus inquiry, Muldoon having been assured that he would be a soft judge who would do as requested and not delve too far into the facts. Muldoon had been poorly advised and Justice Mahon’s report is now famous for his ‘an orchestrated litany of lies’ statement.

In each case the men were hounded by their superiors who were intent in keeping their systems and own situations intact. As a result in each case the man were eventually destroyed.

As can be expected of James McNeish a fascinating, well researched and well written book. This is obviously not light reading, but is interesting and certainly thought provoking. A well worth while read.

Mike Beckett

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