John Wilkinson didn’t realise until after the end of World War ll that he’d broken his back when the plane he was piloting in North Africa was shot down. Captured and beaten up by Italian soldiers, interrogated by the Gestapo, John eventually ended up in the notorious Stalag Luft III prison camp in what is now Poland. He was involved in the Wooden Horse Escape, one of the most famous of the war. Later he would meet his future wife at the camp, a displaced person from Lithuania. Now 95, John’s memory of his wartime experiences remains undimmed.
Keen to preserve the stories of those who went to war, filmmaker David Blyth (Our Oldest Soldier) teamed up with RSA historian Patricia Stroud. The result is Memories of Service, a series of interviews with veterans from World War II, Vietnam and Korea. They recall comradeship, high risk bombing runs over Europe, blackmailing guards at prisoner of war camps (Ernest Davenport), and 16-hour days working the infamous Burma Railway (James Easton). Inbetween arranging further interviews, Blyth also put together compilation reels, culled from the conversations.
During World War ll South Islander Sandy Thomas was fighting in Crete, when he was wounded and captured by the German Army. Unwilling to spend the war in custody he repeatedly plotted escape from hospital, to the point his Houdini efforts became a running joke among his captors. Nevertheless a successful escape attempt from the Salonika Prisoner of War camp would have him fleeing across the continent on his wounded leg, in an attempt to reunite with his comrades. Now retired, having reached the rank of Major General, Walter Babington Thomas recounts his escapades.
This 1945 newsreel reports on the repatriation of New Zealand prisoners held in Japanese camps during the war in the Pacific. Cameraman Stan Wemyss (grandfather of Russell Crowe) ranges across Asia with the RNZAF — from Changi in Singapore, to camps in Java (Indonesia), and Siam (Thailand). The narration notes grimly that “the movie camera does not record the stench of death”; and returned PoW, Dr Johns of Auckland, implores for the sake of the children: “that the experiences that we have gone through at the hands of the Japanese shall never, never again be possible.”
At 101 Arthur Asher offers a remarkable account of his experiences in World War II. Dates and events come easily to mind as he narrates his time in the North African desert war and Greece. Caught up in the gruelling battle at Bel Hamid near Tobruk, Asher was later wounded by an exploding mine. A stay in a convalescent camp felt more like being in prison to Asher, who went on to fight the German advance in Greece, shooting down a spotter plane in the process. Back in North Africa, he was hit by a car, ending his war with a broken leg and jaw. Asher died on 19 May 2017.
Guitar-playing yodellers The Topp Twins have been bringing audiences together for decades. As this Funny As interview demonstrates, Jools and Lynda Topp make for a formidable team. Among other topics, they talk about: Six decades of making each other laugh, starting from when they had to share a bath as children Making yodelling funny How an empty petrol tank and a prison cell launched their career; how busking taught them showmanship Protest, politics, loose elastic bands, and the value of "beautiful mistakes" Winning over an audience of London punks How Lynda got married before gay marriage became legal
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".
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.
One of the funniest people on either side of the Tasman, John Clarke’s brand of droll wit (always delivered with a wickedly understated authenticity) defined the high-water mark of Kiwi and Australian comedy for 30 years. Spawned in the early 70s, his gumboot-clad character Fred Dagg marked a defining moment in the development of New Zealand comedy. Clarke passed away on 9 April 2017.
Claire Oberman found herself on cinema screens across the country, after playing one of the larrikins who jump into a fast-moving mini in local blockbuster Goodbye Pork Pie (1981). Born and raised in New Zealand to Dutch immigrants, Oberman arrived at the role after studies at National Drama School, a busy and eclectic theatre career, and a role on TV hit Hunter's Gold. Post Pork Pie, she relocated to the United Kingdom, where her CV includes three seasons of BAFTA-nominated prison camp drama Tenko — playing a nurse from Australia — BBC mini-series Fortunes of War, and blue blood drama Gentlemen and Players.