War Stories

Film, 1995 (Trailer)

In Gaylene Preston's documentary, seven elderly women recall their personal experiences of World War II. Their intimate, unadorned stories are filmed talking heads style, interspersed with personal photographs and period newsreel clips. From tragic love stories to long-suppressed revelations of sex and death, War Stories is a revealing touchstone of New Zealand history. It received international acclaim. LA Times writer Kevin Thomas enthused that Preston takes "a simple idea and turns it into a rich, universal experience".

Great War Stories 1 - Bess and the War Horses

Television, 2014 (Full Length Episode)

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.

Great War Stories 3 - Peter Howden

Television, 2016 (Full Length Episode)

Peter Howden’s daily letters to his wife Rhoda during World War I provide one of the most comprehensive accounts of what life was like for a Kiwi soldier in the trenches at Passchendaele in Belgium. In his letters, read in this short documentary by his great-grandson, he tells of camping out within the sightline of the enemy, dugouts formed in disused trenches, and the treacherous terrain the soldiers had to navigate. Howden would fall victim to a gas attack which left him blind, and eventually caused his death on 17 October 1917. 

Great War Stories 4 - Falaoa Tosene

Television, 2017 (Full Length Episode)

When 150 Niuean men were shipped off to Auckland en route to the Western Front, they had no idea what lay ahead. This Great War Story features the granddaughter of one of them, and the historian who researched his journey. Falaoa Tosene was “volunteered” to the NZ Māori Pioneer Battalion as a labourer. Unfamiliar food, uniforms and boots for men who had never worn shoes were the first shocks. In France, they faced freezing temperatures and disease. Tosene was hospitalised with trench foot. He survived, thanks to a former missionary, but 30 of his comrades died.

Great War Stories 3 - Ranji Wilson

Television, 2016 (Full Length Episode)

All Black Ranji Wilson was 30 when he set off for France to fight with the Rifle Brigade during WWl. When he wasn't involved with trench warfare, his rugby skills were used to full advantage. Wilson vice captained the "Trench Blacks" to win against the French in 1918. After France (where he was injured at the Battle of Havrincourt), Wilson visited South Africa but wasn't allowed to play rugby because he was "coloured". Wilson, whose father was West Indian, became an All Black selector on his return to New Zealand and died in Lower Hutt in 1953.

Great War Stories 1 - Keith Caldwell

Television, 2014 (Full Length Episode)

“We’ve chosen someone Hollywood would call an action hero” says Hilary Barry, as she introduces this TV item recalling Kiwi experiences in World War I. The subject is decorated flying ace Keith Caldwell, who left for England in 1916 to join the RAF with only eight hours training (which he’d paid for himself). He became one of the most successful pilots on the Western Front, leading ‘Tiger Squadron’. The short, which screened during 3 News, recounts the dogfights and close escapes that Caldwell negotiated with “splendid skill and fearlessness”.

Great War Stories 3 - Leslie Beauchamp

Television, 2016 (Full Length Episode)

In World War l Leslie Beauchamp was a soldier in the British Army, who died aged only 21 when a grenade exploded in his hand during a training demonstration. This episode of mini documentary series Great War Stories remembers Beauchamp through the words of his sister, writer Katherine Mansfield. Leslie's time growing up in Wellington is examined, as well as the mutual affection between brother and sister — including samples from letters they wrote to one another, and tributes that Mansfield would pay to him in her fiction and poetry.

Great War Stories 3 - Gallipoli tortoise

Television, 2016 (Full Length Episode)

This edition of Great War Stories accompanies author Shona Riddell to Berhampore Primary School in Wellington, where she reads her story of a pet tortoise that she grew up with. It was taken from the trenches of Gallipoli by a soldier, gifted to hospital nurse Nora Hughes (Riddell’s great aunt), then transported to New Zealand, where the tortoise’s adventures didn’t end: he made local news on a walkabout to Mangatainoka Brewery. The series of short documentaries screened during TV3’s nightly news, as part of centennial commemorations of World War l.

Great War Stories 2 - Ettie Rout

Television, 2015 (Full Length Episode)

Narrated by Hilary Barry and screening on 3 News, this series of short documentaries profiles New Zealanders involved in World War I. This episode looks at sexual health campaigner Ettie Rout, who was determined to tackle the high venereal disease rate amongst Kiwi soldiers. Her biographer Jane Tolerton tells of Rout advocating for prophylactic kits, and setting up a safe sex brothel in France. Rout attracted controversy and censorship, and was scorned by the establishment as immoral. But soldiers and doctors thanked her as the "guardian angel of the ANZACs". 

Great War Stories 3 - Alexander Aitken

Television, 2016 (Full Length Episode)

Hilary Barry presents this episode from the third series of Great War Stories. The subject is Alexander Aitken, a veteran of World War l who would later become a world-renowned mathematician. Aitken wrote an acclaimed war memoir (Gallipoli to the Somme) which a student reads from at Aitken's old school, Otago Boys' High, on Anzac Day. The story of the violin he kept by his side at Gallipoli is told, and a musical arrangement of Aitken's is played. The short documentaries were made for the centenary of World War l, and screened during TV3’s nightly news.