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Story of violin that went to war

The story of a Dunedin soldier who smuggled his violin to the front during World War 1 illustrates the human side of war and the power of music, the creators of a new book on him say.

The Anzac Violin: Alexander Aitken's Story, by Auckland author Jennifer Beck and Dunedin watercolourist Robyn Belton was launched last month at the Hocken Library.

The award-winning duo approached Scholastic on doing a story on ex-Otago Boys' High School pupil Alexander Aitken in 2014.

They received a writer's residency at the University of Otago College of Education in 2015 to work on the project.

Ms Belton said the story was about the power of music, and Ms Beck said it was also about comradeship, courage, and the human aspect of the war.

Ms Beck, speaking from Auckland, said her interest in Mr Aitken was piqued when she read his book Gallipoli to the Somme about 2006, and noticed the frequent references to a violin.

The Anzac Violin followed Mr Aitken's story from the time he won the violin in a ship raffle in 1915, until his return to New Zealand.

Mr Aitken left his violin behind when he headed to the Somme but it was not lost. In 1918, one of the soldiers who had fought alongside Mr Aitken returned the restored violin to him.

The pair said his frank account of war in Gallipoli to the Somme was written partly in order to help other soldiers deal with their experiences.

A brilliant mathematician who later became a professor at Edinburgh University, Mr Aitken had a photographic memory, and suffered mentally because he ``couldn't erase anything'', Ms Belton said.