More than 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas in World War l. Over 18,000 died; at least 40,000 more were wounded. Campaigns involving Kiwis, from Gallipoli to the Western Front, were identity-forming, and the war's effects on society were deep. The World War l Collection is an evolving onscreen remembrance. Military expert Chris Pugsley writes about the collection here.
A military exchange between New Zealand and the United Kingdom is the focus of this National Film Unit short. About 150 Kiwi soldiers head to London for Exercise Powderhorn in 1964, which includes guard duty at Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London. And they still have time to see the sights. Meanwhile a contingent from the Loyal Regiment in North Lancashire arrives in New Zealand for Exercise Te Rauparaha. They experience jungle warfare in a mock battle on the West Coast and practise mountain craft in the Southern Alps.
Wally Wyatt’s first encounter with the army was as a paper boy. During World War ll he sold newspapers to soldiers at Auckland's North Head military camp. Later, after training at Papakura, he headed off to Korea as part of the 163 Battery. A photo of Wally taken at that time ended up on a 40 cent stamp, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice. Korea is sometimes called the “forgotten war.” As this interview makes clear, that’s how Wally and his comrades felt after arriving back home. There was no welcome or thanks — they just got on with their lives.
in this interview, Les Hughes recalls serving in the Korean War. Hughes was an artillery gunner in 161 Battery of the Royal New Zealand Artillery. He was involved in the Battle of Kapyong, where UN troops withstood a massive Chinese attack, helping to prevent the capture of Seoul, the South Korean capital. Then aged 86, Hughes reminisces about that battle and his training back in New Zealand, the Kiwi troop’s lack of equipment, and the journey home at war's end. Some 31 Kiwi soldiers were killed in action in Korea. Hughes himself passed away on 19 February 2016.
Ron Childs’ father had fought at Passchendaele in World War l. With another conflict looming, Ron signed up for the Territorials at age 18. A few months later war broke out, and he was in the army, guarding the entrance to Wellington Harbour with heavy artillery and searchlights. Poor health meant he never made it overseas; he spent the rest of the war on the home front. Serving in both the army and the air force, Childs was variously a gunner and dispatch rider.
It’s sometimes called the forgotten war, but Korea lives bright in the mind of Maurice Gasson. Volunteering at 21, Gasson found himself on the freezing battlefields of Korea as part of an artillery battery. Poorly equipped, the Kiwi soldiers swapped bottles of whisky with their American counterparts for sleeping bags and blankets. Conditions improved, but the fighting intensified. Gasson took part in the three-day Battle of Kapyong, a key episode of the conflict. His stories are chilling and some of his experiences are reflected through his poetry.
John Wills joined the New Zealand Army as soon as he could when war broke out in 1939. He ended up serving in North Africa and Italy until war’s end in 1945. Now 96, Wills looks back at his time as a driver for an artillery battery. Taken prisoner and held by the Italians in Libya, he was liberated by Indian troops in time to see action at the battle of El Alamein. He was also present, behind the lines, at the brutal Battle of Cassino, north of Naples. Tales of fighting, hardship and bravery are balanced with humour.
When Vince Pierson’s old comrades tried to track him down, years after the Korean War, they couldn’t find him. Pierson had taken another surname when he joined up, to disguise the fact that at 19, he was underage. As a gunner attached to HQ, he was with the New Zealand artillery supporting Australian and Canadian infantry at the Battle of Kapyong. Pierson belies his 85 years with sharp recall and vivid stories of people and places. He shows as much empathy for the Koreans as for his comrades, while describing battling intense cold and stifling heat — and the other side.
This edition of Great War Stories series revisits “a candidate for the darkest day in New Zealand war history” — 12 October 1917. The Passchendaele disaster in Belgium is explored via a letter smuggled home from 23-year-old private Leonard Hart. The front was a quagmire of mud and blood where, in a catastrophic blunder, Kiwi soldiers were shelled by their own artillery fire before being caught in barbed wire, and slaughtered by enemy machine guns. Hart called it “the most appalling slaughter I’ve ever seen.” Presenter Hilary Barry also sings the opening hymn, 'Abide with Me'.
Like many young New Zealand males during the late 1960s, Wayne Chester joined the army and headed overseas to fight in Vietnam. As a machine gunner he patrolled the jungles outside of Saigon and saw combat, facing the Viet Cong on several occasions. He recounts his experiences in the jungle, along with some close encounters with wildlife, and the altercations and laughs shared with the American contingent. He also discusses his admiration for the Vietnamese people and the Viet Cong, and the long-term physical and political effects of agent orange.