When Sir Walter Nash died in 1968 he left both a study and a very large garage full of the biggest collection of private papers yet known to scholars in New Zealand. The 3,000 or so bundles and boxes of documents, after being purged of newspapers and journals, still weigh several tons and occupy 700 feet of shelves in the National Archives.
I had, three years earlier, asked Sir Walter if I could write his biography. He declined, wishing to sort the papers himself, and hoping to write his own memoirs. After his death, however, his trustees asked me to write his life--not 'the' life, not an 'official' life, but a life.
I began studying the Nash papers in 1970. In 1971 a generous grant from the Nuffield Foundation, to which I am very greatly indebted, enabled me to employ a research assistant, Mrs Alison Allen, who catalogued the contents of the bundles of papers, and helped my investigations in other ways. Her knowledge of New Zealand Labour history and her good humour made her an ideal assistant and co-worker.
Many people have asked how I could stand reading all these documents, but historians will understand their fascination. No other collection of papers affords a comparable view of New Zealand political history in this century. It includes a very large number of letters from other Labour leaders, including Harry Holland and Micky Savage and Peter Fraser. An extraordinary number of politicians, economists, public servants, academics, parsons, and public figures make their appearances on Nash's stage.
Most of the important episodes in Nash's life are richly and extensively documented in his papers. While he was a cabinet minister he kept his own copies of correspondence relating to any topic he thought significant. Consequently, except in relation to a few topics inadequately covered in his papers, it was not necessary for a biographer to try to follow Sir Walter through the labyrinths of files of the departments which he once headed. However, extensive research was necessary in British archives, chiefly in the Public Record Office, London, to discover the British point of view during Nash's various negotiations with the British government. Some records in the United States, notably the minutes of the Pacific War Council . . .