Director Karl Zohrab’s docudrama makes the case for World War I military leader Major General Sir Andrew Russell to be resurrected in Kiwi popular memory alongside the likes of Freyberg. Based on Jock Vennell's biography, the film spans Russell’s life from his Hawke’s Bay childhood to Gallipoli and the Western Front — where the New Zealand Division commander was acknowledged for his tactical nous — to the latent effect of his war experience. It screened on The History Channel for Anzac Day 2014. Colin Moy (In My Father’s Den) plays Russell in battlefield dramatisations.
Captain Thomas Blake was one of about 40 veterinarians to serve New Zealand in the First World War. He accompanied some of the 10,000 Kiwi farm horses sent to the frontlines in the Middle East and, later France. They faced terrible conditions: sand and heat in Sinai, mud and rain in France, and suffered disease and horrific wounds. This Great War Stories episode explores the tight bond between horse and soldier. In the end, only four horses came home. Blake also made history: while in Egypt, he became the first Kiwi to marry while the troops were on active service.
In the northern French town of Le Quesnoy, the names of local streets and landmarks serve notice of a debt to New Zealand. In the final week of World War I Kiwi soldiers freed Le Quesnoy from its German occupiers — thanks partly to a 'magic' ladder, daringly used to scale the town’s 90-foot-high ramparts. Director David Blyth heads to France for the anniversary of Le Quesnoy’s liberation, following the path of one of the liberators: his late grandfather ‘Curly’ Blyth. The doco also includes an interview with Curly, conducted by historian Christopher Pugsley.
This feature dramatises an ill-fated offensive that Kiwi soldiers undertook during World War I’s Gallipoli campaign. On 8 August 1915 the Wellington Battalion briefly seized Chunuk Bair, a pivotal peak overlooking the Dardanelles; they suffered huge losses. The film pitches the attack as a formative New Zealand nationhood moment, with Kiwi guts and resilience countered by inept, careless British generals, as much as their Turkish foes. Filmed on an Avalon set and the Wainuiomata coast, the story was based on Maurice Shadbolt’s classic play Once On Chunuk Bair.
Rizk Alexander found himself in a rare situation during WWI — he was an Ottoman subject who chose to fight for the British Empire. His brief life still holds a fascination for his descendants. From a Syrian Christian family, Alexander had only been in New Zealand three years, when the 17-year-old signed up for war. Hoping to fight the Turkish Ottomans, he instead ended up on the Western Front, proving himself at the Battle of Messines in 1917. Later gassed, Alexander returned to Wellington to recuperate but he never fully recovered, dying in 1924. He was 27.
The trenches of World War I represented warfare on a new scale and produced facial wounds in numbers never seen before. This Top Shelf doco examines the legacy of Sir Harold Gillies and Henry Pickerill — NZ surgeons who founded modern reconstructive plastic surgery while treating these injuries — and of Sir Archibald McIndoe and Rainsford Mowlem who continued this work during World War II. This excerpt focuses on Gillies and Pickerill, and the rediscovery of the remarkable surgical models, and watercolour paintings of their patients, they used as teaching aids.
Bill Dobson was one of around 500 New Zealanders to be taken prisoner by the Germans during World War I. His grandsons, filmmakers Grant and Bryce Campbell, use Dobson’s letters home, his sketch book and contemporary photographs to describe his journey. Bill was one of 210 Kiwis captured at French village Méteren, near the Belgian border, during Germany’s 1918 Spring Offensive. Camp conditions were tough, but Dobson filled his time with prolific sketching and performing in the Camp Concert Party. Post-war, Dobson married vaudeville performer Louise Morris.
Made for the Post Office, this 1971 National Film Unit documentary offers a potted history of New Zealand, using postage stamps as the frame. Director David Sims ranges from Māori rock drawings, to Tasman and Cook. Once Pākehā settlers arrive, the film offers a narrative of progress (aside from two world wars) leading to nationhood and industry. Archive photographs, paintings, Edwardian-era scenes and reenactments add to the subjects illustrated on the stamps. The stamps include New Zealand’s first: a full-face portrait of Queen Victoria by Alfred Edward Chalon.
This miniseries is built around the fortunes of the fictional Smith family during World War l. Directed by Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent), the first episode is framed around a letter home by nurse Bea Smith (played by Westside's Esther Stephens). This 10 minute opening excerpt jumps from a war hospital in Egypt, back to trysts on the home front: an illicit romance at medical school, high times on Auckland's Grey Street, and a mysterious arrival at the family store. Funded by NZ On Air’s Platinum Fund, When We Go to War debuted on Anzac weekend in 2015.
This edition of Great War Stories follows the experiences of Kiwi horses in World War I by recounting the story of Bess, the thoroughbred stead of Colonel CG Powles of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment. The two would serve in the Middle East, and on the Western Front. Over 10,000 horses were sent to war; Bess was one of only four to return home. The clip finishes with an Anzac Day remembrance at Bess’s Rangitikei grave. The first series of seven short documentaries screened during TV3's primetime news in 2014; another series followed in 2015.