In early 1944 the Italian town of Cassino was the site of a devastating World War II battle. Kiwi soldiers were part of the Allied forces attacking a German-held stronghold. New Zealand General Bernard Freyberg made the decision to bomb the town, including an iconic 1,400 year-old hilltop monastery. Both sides suffered heavy losses as the Nazis utilised the ruins to their advantage. This documentary follows Kiwi veterans CJ 'Brick' Lorimer and Stewart Black (aka Tai Paraki) as they return to confront the brutality and horror of war, as part of events marking the battle's 60th anniversary.
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.
World War II veteran Everard Otto volunteered for the Territorials at 18, helping supply Americans troops based in New Zealand. But his real war story began when he turned 21 and was sent overseas. He eventually arrived in Italy as a staff car driver. Mostly behind the lines, Otto’s memory of service is based around the brutal battles for Monte Cassino, watching the cruel fighting and bombing that razed the famous hilltop monastery. Returning decades later he found the countryside largely unchanged. He even found the dugout where he spent four eventful months.
“You forget about the rough times” says old soldier Steve Danes. Instead, the veteran of the Italian Campaign during World War ll focuses on the funny side. There are plenty of tales of the laughter and hijinks to be had when resting behind the lines, or on leave. Conscripted at age 18 and sent to Europe just short of his 21st birthday, Danes spent most of his war in Italy and there wasn’t much of the country he didn’t see. Along the way he encountered fanatical young Nazis, and older German soldiers who were sick of war and wanted it to end.
In this The Years Back episode Bernard Kearns charts New Zealand's 6th Brigade and Maori Battalion as they fight their way through Italy between 1943 and 1945. Reaching Monte Cassino in 1944, the force suffered 1600 casualties in 12 weeks of bitter fighting. Using NFU pictures, the documentary traces the advance north after Cassino falls, and includes the bloodless capture of Padua and the setting up of the New Zealand Forces Club in the best hotel in Venice. The documentary ends with Kiwi forces facing down Tito's Yugoslav partisans in Trieste.
This compilation episode culls stories from nine new Memories of Service interviews. From Crete to Monte Cassino, the war in the Pacific to the Korean War, former servicemen and women tell their tales in fascinating detail. Divided into broad sections ('Enlisting', 'Battles', 'Occupation of Japan'), there are stories of training, narrow escapes, attack from the air, and sad goodbyes. Director David Blyth and Silverdale RSA museum curator Patricia Stroud’s series of interviews are a valuable archive of a period rapidly fading from memory.
In this 2014 documentary, singer Whirimako Black explores the World War II experience of her late father Stewart Black (who enlisted as Tai Paraki), and its legacy for his whānau. With her daughter Ngatapa — also a singer — Whirimako returns to Cassino in Italy. The 1944 battle helped forge the reputation of the Māori Battalion, but they suffered heavy losses, and it left survivors like Paraki with trauma and shame. The pair respond in word and song to the place — and to their koro’s memories, which were captured by director Reuben Collier for earlier doco Monte Cassino 60 Years On.
This documentary explores resurgent interest in Anzac Day and examines the Kiwi desire to “remember them” (those who served in war) — ranging from patriotism to protest to burgeoning dawn services. The doco is framed around the return of the Unknown Warrior to a Wellington tomb in 2004; and a trip to Trieste, Italy, for Gordon and Luciana Johnston and their 24-year-old granddaughter Kushla. Gordon was a World War II gunner and Luciana an Italian nurse. Kushla learns of their war experience, and the early Cold War stand-off in Trieste following Nazi surrender.
Māori Battalion - March To Victory tells the story of the New Zealand Army's (28th) Māori Battalion, which fought in campaigns during World War ll. Director and writer Tainui Stephens sets out in the feature-length documentary to tell the stories of five men who served with the unit, and also "capture how they felt about it". Narration by actor George Henare, remembrances, visits to historic sites, archival footage, and graphic stills create a respectful and stirring screen testament to the men who fought in the Battalion. Stephens writes about the film in the backgrounder.
This 1983 film looks at New Zealand in World War II, via a compilation of footage from the National Film Unit’s Weekly Review newsreel series, which screened in NZ cinemas from 1941 to 1946. It begins with Prime Minister Savage’s “where Britain goes, we go” speech, and covers campaigns in Europe, Africa and the Pacific, and life on the home front. The propaganda film excerpts are augmented with narration and graphics giving context to the war effort. Helen Martin called it "a fascinating record of documentary filmmaking at a crucial time in the country’s history".