New Zealand Law Society - Lawyer's history PhD featured a CJ

Lawyer's history PhD featured a CJ

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"I'm afraid I'm a perpetual swot," says Upper Hutt lawyer Reg Newell, who has added three degrees to his LLB – one of them a PhD.

These degrees are not in law, however. "I did a BA majoring in sociology through Massey University. I enjoyed the experience and it opened up new vistas for me.

Reg Newell
Reg Newell

"Back at the time I was dealing with gang members and that kind of thing, and the sociological aspect of deviance and leadership in small groups really chimed with me."

His next degree, completed extramurally through a United States university, was a masters in history.

As part of his study, Mr Newell came across a book on amphibious operations in the Pacific and it made reference to three operations that New Zealand troops were involved in.

"I'm a bit of a World War II buff and I was rather puzzled by this, because I had never heard of these operations. So I began digging deeper into it, and having finished my masters degree, I approached Massey University.

"Fortunately, I managed to find two supervisors who were able to take on the supervision role. It took me roughly seven years part-time."

The result was his thesis, entitled New Zealand's forgotten warriors: 3NZ division in the South Pacific in World War II.

Despite not being related to law, Mr Newell has found that these academic endeavours have helped in his practice.

Stimulating

"For me, extramural studies was a way of stimulating the brain," he says. "And the Massey extramural stuff is really interesting."

Now in sole practice, Mr Newell first worked in two government roles as a legal officer, without a practising certificate, after he graduated from Canterbury University in 1975.

The first was the now long gone Department of Māori Affairs in Christchurch. He then moved to Wellington and worked for the New Zealand Forest Service.

"One day there was an advertisement in the paper asking for people to apply for a job in Upper Hutt as a lawyer. I'd just had four wisdom teeth taken out. My face was all swollen up and I was on painkillers and I reckon not in my right mind. I applied for the job and got it.

"I dropped about $3,000 in income, but I'd got rather stale doing the governmental work and this seemed to be a much more interesting area of practice."

The firm he joined in 1981 was then known as Macalister Mazengarb Grubi. Mr Newell followed the usual career progression of being a solicitor through to being a partner. The partnership, by then known as Grubi and Newell, dissolved in around 1995, and he has been in sole practice since then.

"I'm what could be considered to be the equivalent of a medical general practitioner," he says. "My firm is a very small one. It is family oriented. I don't have any big commercial clients or anything like that. I'm simply somebody who works in the local community."

In his practice, Mr Newell is involved in matters such as conveyancing, family law, criminal law, trusts, wills – in fact, "quite a range of things.

"And that way I don't get stale," he says.

Lawyers as officers

"During my research, the thing that struck me hugely was the number of familiar names I came across in terms of people who were lawyers and who were in the Third Division as officers.

"Lawyers have proved their academic worth by undertaking a university degree. They have proved their intelligence and were able to operate under pressure and to make decisions.

"In the Second Division you have [Major-General Sir Howard] Kippenberger as a prime example of a lawyer who turns out to be a very good commander.

"And the other one is [Major-General Sir Harold] Barrowclough, who was commander of the Third Division in the Pacific area."

Following the war, Sir Harold would become New Zealand's eighth Chief Justice and played a pivotal role in establishing the permanent Court of Appeal of New Zealand.

Sir Harold would also feature in Mr Newell's PhD thesis and in three books he has written or is in the process of writing.

He came to write the books, he says, because "a doctoral thesis is rather restricted. You have to answer questions that are put up, whereas in the Operation Goodtime book, I was able to go all over the landscape and look at some more interesting material.

"There were, for example a number of American pilots who had been shot down and they were being sheltered by the local people on the Treasury Islands. It is an interesting story in itself."

Operation Goodtime and the Battle of the Treasury Islands 1943 is Mr Newell's first book. It relates to the retaking of the Treasury Islands, which are in the Solomon Islands, from the Japanese.

First since Gallipoli

"This was the first opposed amphibious assault by New Zealand forces since the unfortunate Gallipoli campaign in 1915.

"The difference was that the first time around we were under the British and the second time round we were under the Americans. It was much more successful."

His second book, published just last month, is called Pacific Star: 3NZ Division in the South Pacific in World War II, published by Exisle Publishing and available to purchase on the publisher's website.

It covers the initial deployment of the Third Division in Fiji and New Caledonia, describes the major battles the division fought in the Solomons: Vella Lavella, the Treasury Islands and the Green Islands.

Pacific Star highlights the wartime and post-war perception in New Zealand that service in the South Pacific was less onerous than service in the Mediterranean. That viewpoint ignores the often unpleasant and even deadly conditions faced by the soldiers of the Third Division.

The division did not have an easy time of it, and one of the aims of Pacific Star is to revive the reputation of the Third Division and ensure its feats are not forgotten.

The manuscript Mr Newell is working on at present centres on the New Zealanders' involvement in isolating a major Japanese base at Rabaul.

"If this base had remained intact, the Japanese would have been able to block offensive actions by the allies. Without neutralising this particular base, not much could have really been safely achieved.

"The New Zealanders were, at one point, going to do an assault with the Marines. Had they done so, it would have made our casualties at Casino or El Alamein seem like child's play. Fortunately, the decision was made to bypass and just simply neutralise this Japanese base," Mr Newell says.

All three major operations that the Third Division were involved in were successful and with low casualties.

"In a way, that kind of worked against the recognition of the Third Division, because it was successful. If one of the operations had turned into a blood bath, then probably the effects would have been huge on the New Zealand population. As it was, the casualties were fairly minimal – I think less than 100 dead and a couple of hundred wounded.

"Having said that, that means roughly a hundred New Zealand families without parents, husbands, fathers, that type of thing."

Mr Newell hopes that his third book on this not so well remembered facet of World War II will be published next year.

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