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.
Ron Cross is a military man through and through. A proud soldier, he feels lucky to have had the experiences that shaped his life. Joining up as a regular Army Cadet, Ron served in both the Malayan conflict and the Vietnam War. From the comedy of preparing for jungle warfare in snow-covered hills around Tekapo, to the tension of being fired on at close range on the roads of Vietnam, Ron’s vivid recollections are captivating. His one regret: that the lesson of how not to have wars has yet to be learned.
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.
This is a silent film record of the civic reception of returning World War I hero, Lieutenant John Grant. The Hawera builder won a Victoria Cross aged 28 for raiding several German machine-gun 'nests' — by leaping into them — near Bapaume, France on 1 September 1918. Grant's citation noted he "displayed coolness, determination and valour". Grant is wearing the NZ Army's 'lemon squeezer' hat as he plants a tree and poses for portraits in front of the crowds, and receives the supreme award for battlefield bravery given to Commonwealth servicemen.
The youngest of eight children from a prominent Canterbury family, brothers Robin and Gordon Harper signed up eagerly to enlist in World War l. The Harpers fought in Turkey and Egypt as machine gunners with the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, earning medals for their bravery at Hill 60 in Gallipoli. Using their farming skills, the brothers found each other on the battlefield with their distinctive dog whistles. Susan Harper, a relative of the pair, displays a Turkish machine gun one of the brothers brought home. The other sibling was killed in battle in Egypt.
The opening sequence of music show Ready to Roll is imprinted on the eyes and ears of many Kiwi music fans. The show jumped directly from the opening graphics to a quick rundown of the week's top 20 singles. Here are two of RTR's beloved openings: the late 70s version is scored to 1974 Commmodores instrumental 'Machine Gun'. In the 80s, Peter Blake's synth number had taken over from funk, and the colours favoured electric neon. The graphics owed a debt to the arcade computer games that followed Space Invaders. The week's featured acts came next, then the countdown.
Despite the misleading numbering, this October 1942 film marked the first of the National Film Unit's long-running Weekly Review series. The NFU had been established a year earlier to promote the war effort via newsreels screened in movie theatres. In a meta first clip, Kiwi soldiers watch an NFU film in a makeshift outdoor cinema. Then war readiness is demonstrated via army exercises — including on Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where “Māori and Pākehā are working together, mounting machine guns for their common defence.” Finally: Red Cross parcels are prepared for NZ prisoners of war.
In the early 80s Ready to Roll was NZ’s premier TV pop show. It emerged in the pre-music video boom mid-70s hosted by Roger Gascoigne (and later Stu Dennison) with bands and dancers live in the studio. By the early 80s it was a seamless video clip Top 20 countdown — introduced by the Commodores pumping ‘Machine Gun’ — and appointment Saturday evening viewing for music fans (and a regular in the week’s Top 10 rating shows). It then evolved into a brand, spawning a number of RTR offshoots (Mega-Mix, Sounz and New Releases), before disappearing in the mid-90s.
The Screaming Meemees (named for a 1960s toy machine gun) formed at Rosmini College in Takapuna and were at the forefront of a post-punk wave of new bands from Auckland’s North Shore in the early 80s. The band’s first proper release ‘See Me Go’ became the first NZ single to enter the charts at No.1 (helped by pre-sales and delivery delays) and was immediately deleted. A massively popular live act, they recorded one album If This Is Paradise, I’ll Take the Bag (a nod to TV's It’s In The Bag game show) for the Propeller label but disbanded in 1983.
This wartime edition of the NFU's newsreel series opens with a one and a half mile Wellington harbour swim at Evans Bay. Then it's up to Dannevirke for an A&P show for sheep dog trials and show jumping spills. The reel ends with a visit to the NZ Expeditionary Force's Christmas celebrations while fighting in Italy. There's mail from home, hospital romance, malarky in the snow as poultry and wine is chased, and Māori Battalion soldiers roast a pig. Ambulances are a reminder that war goes on; and on the frontline machine gun crews help keep "Jerry below ground".