I went to Crete looking for this woman, found her in Cairo, then spent the rest of the war trying to forget her. Then I did it all over again.
Johnson had killed a man in the central North Island, got himself smuggled back to England on a freighter, taken off again, this time to Spain to fight in a war. Then he met Hilary. She was from New Zealand, from Wellington, brimming over with words: “The last thing I saw of New Zealand as our ship moved away from Port Nicholson, the last thing I saw was a newspaper drop from the hands of a fisherman sitting on the edge of the wharf. He’d fallen asleep. The newspaper fluttered down into the waters and drifted there with the day’s news from around the world. Hard to beat that as an image.”
“I liked New Zealand,” Johnson said.
The hero of John Mulgan’s Man Alone, often regarded as New Zealand’s first great novel, continues his drift through life, caught up now in the midnight of the twentieth century, fighting in the Spanish Civil War and the disastrous Greek campaign of 1941, in the even more disastrous defence of Crete, then behind enemy lines in the mountains in a war thick with duplicities. Finally he comes back to New Zealand to an industrial war, a solitary figure — but in his heart, no longer alone.