800 unpublished photos from World War II printed in new book The Front Line

Kiwis love to take photos, and 80 years ago during World War II, things were no different.

Although cameras were banned on the front line, most New Zealand servicemen and women had access to one, and now 800 unpublished photographs from the war have been whittled down from thousands for a new book.

Almost half a million Kiwis participated in the war effort at home or abroad, and the photographic record they've left us is quite simply breathtaking.

Professor Glyn Harper sourced the photos for a new book, The Front Line, which tells the story of our war in images from Greece and North Africa, to the air war above Europe and the Pacific.

"I looked at over 30,000 and selected what I thought were 5000 really good ones, and during the lockdown I got that down to a thousand, and then my publisher said, no, you've got to get that down to about 800," he says.

Taken mostly from private collections, the photographs show the pride and determination of a generation of Kiwis - who literally put their own lives on the line. One is of a soldier who'd just survived the Battle of Crete.

"He's been through all that hard fighting and the evacuation and has arrived back in Egypt, but the look on his face is, 'Well, that's over, let's get on with the war'. I mean these people aren't cowered or fearful, they're basically unbroken and wanting to get on with it," Harper says.

Some of the photos were taken in the heat of battle.

One image shows New Zealand anti-aircraft gunners and the German dive-bomber they just shot down. Another details the fight to save the life of a Kiwi pilot whose Corsair fighter plane is on fire.

"The pilot is still in there and they're desperately trying to put out the fire before it spreads to him. Live-action shots in terms of war photography are like the gold standard," Harper says.

New Zealanders took photos wherever they could, and even where photography was banned on threat of execution - in German prison camps.

"They were not supposed to be having access to cameras because they could use them to forge documents and also plan escapes, but how they were able to take those images, obviously done surreptitiously, is a bit of a puzzle," Harper says.

But among the many photos of happy faces are a reminder of the war's cost. Twelve thousand Kiwis were killed in World War II and 25,000 were either injured or taken prisoner - the highest casualty rate in the British Empire.

"We're making the greatest possible contribution to the allied war effort," Harper says.

"But there is a cost to being involved, and that cost is always the loss of some of our finest young men and women, and I think that's an important thing to reflect on."