This special edition of the National Film Unit’s monthly magazine series looks at some of the “people, places and events filmed by our cameramen during the years 1941 - 1962”. The NFU’s 21st birthday review — compiled by David H Fowler — ranges from wartime newsreels to the post-war boom (factories, dams, industrial agriculture), from salvos to Peter Snell. Other images include Kiwi soldiers playing rugby in Korea, and cigarettes hanging from the lips of firemen fighting Christchurch's Ballantyne Department Store fire in 1947.
Colin Ramsey was rejected on medical grounds when he volunteered for World War ll, but not long after, he was called up and soon found himself training at Papakura Military Camp. An ambulance driver in the 3rd New Zealand Division, the first part of Colin’s war was in the Pacific. The realities of the conflict hit home while serving in the Solomons. He and his comrades were sent to collect the American casualties of a Japanese bombing raid, a grizzly experience. At 93, Colin’s memory is sharp as he vividly recalls his experiences.
This documentary unearths the story of the soldiers in the New Zealand Tunneling Company, whose daring World War I raids involved digging tunnels through chalk rock, laying explosives underneath enemy lines, and countermining German tunneling efforts. The story is told through the eyes of a New Zealand woman who retraces her grandfather’s war story to Arras, France, and sees the Kiwi-tagged cavern 'city' nearly 80 years later. The company played a key role on the Western Front, and was especially recruited in NZ, made up of miners, bushmen and labourers.
New Zealand is a nation that has been scarred by war: from the horrendous loss of lives at Gallipoli to the decimation of the 28th Māori Battalion, Kiwis have gone to war in their 1000s, and many have not returned. This Our People, Our Century edition explores the experiences of soldiers, and the families who waited at home. It also examines the long tradition of protest against war, from the anti-Vietnam movement to the more recent anti-nuclear protests. The script by Philip Temple, won a best documentary script award at the 2000 NZ TV Guide Television awards.
Harold Beven reckons he’s the luckiest man to serve in the Second World War. Born in a village east of London, he saw plenty of action in the (UK) Royal Navy, but by his own admission, never got his feet wet. Joining up as soon as possible after the outbreak of war, Beven served in almost all the naval theatres. As a Chief Petty Officer, he was involved in the evacuations of Greece and Crete — and later the allied invasions of Sicily and Italy — as well as the D-Day invasion of France. At the age of 96, Beven remembers entire conversations as if it was yesterday.
The second part of this 1982 series on the history of aviation in New Zealand hang glides to the 30s golden age where world famous flying feats (from the likes of Aussie Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and NZ aviatrix Jean Batten) inspired a surge in aero and gliding clubs and the beginning of commercial domestic flights and aerial mapping. War saw Kiwis flying for the RAF and modernised an ageing RNZAF, taking it from biplanes to jet aircraft. Presented by pilot Peter Clements, the series was made for TV by veteran director Conon Fraser and the National Film Unit.
The second episode of this 1992 celebration of New Zealand rugby looks at the period from 1925 - 1956, as depression and war affected the national game. Scrum rules changed — outlawing the wing forward position, pioneered by the Kiwis — and NZ found itself chasing the pack: the no-longer-invincible All Blacks regularly came out losers playing against South Africa. The Springbok was finally felled in a series by the Kiwis in 1956 (played at home in front of huge, manic crowds). All Black Peter Jones famously summed it up the achievement post match: “I’m absolutely buggered”.
With the phrase “we were lucky to get away with it” and a ready laugh, 97-year-old Douglas Smith describes some of the close calls he had as a trainee and later bomber pilot during World War ll. Luck yes, but skill too, as he survived a 30 mission tour of duty. Douglas first tasted action flying a small, twin engine Dakota Boston over France and the Netherlands. Graduating to four engine Lancasters, he took part in huge raids over some of Germany’s biggest cities. Never afraid himself, he laments the vast loss of life among friends and enemies.
At any one time between mid 1942 and mid 1944, between 15,000 and 45,000 US servicemen were camped in NZ preparing for, and recovering from, war in the Pacific. The marines brought colour and drama to the austerity of home front life. Fifty years later this TV documentary used interviews, reenactments and archive material to explore the “American invasion”. Sonja Davies recalls a Wellington street fight kicked off by a racist insult directed at Māori, and her wartime pregnancy and romance (1,500 marriages ensued from “when the Americans were here”).
Gwen Stevens was one of the last survivors of World War ll's top secret Auckland Combined Military Headquarters. There she plotted grid references from New Zealand’s coastal radar, tracking the coming and goings of ships and aircraft. The threat of a Japanese invasion had everyone on edge. At one point there was panic when it was believed an aircraft carrier had been detected off the coast. All services were mobilised, but it turned out to be a mistaken reading of the Three Kings Islands. Over 70 years later, Stevens' recall remains clear. Stevens passed away on 1 January 2018.