Home by Christmas sees Gaylene Preston returning to the hidden stories of ordinary New Zealanders. Inspired by attempts to get her father Ed to reveal his WWII experiences, this finely-balanced docu-drama moves between three strands: Preston’s father (Goodbye Pork Pie's Tony Barry, in a Qantas award-winning performance) retelling his story; recreations of Ed’s wartime OE; and life for the woman he left behind in Greymouth. The dream cast sees Preston’s own daughter Chelsie Preston Crayford playing Preston's mother Tui, alongside Martin Henderson.
This edition of the National Film Unit’s wartime newsreel series tracks the 1000s of New Zealand prisoners of war being repatriated from Germany, shortly after VE Day. “Men from all over the world are here. Waiting to get out. Waiting to get back to their homes …” The ANZACs travel to a transit centre in Brussels, where they enjoy “a first real beer in years” and go sightseeing, before crossing the North Sea to be hosted in England, where thoughts turn south. The reel ends with a rousing rendition of the Māori Battalion marching song in an English pub.
When Vince Pierson’s old comrades tried to track him down, years after the Korean War, they couldn’t find him. Pierson had taken another surname when he joined up, to disguise the fact that at 19, he was underage. As a gunner attached to HQ, he was with the New Zealand artillery supporting Australian and Canadian infantry at the Battle of Kapyong. Pierson belies his 85 years with sharp recall and vivid stories of people and places. He shows as much empathy for the Koreans as for his comrades, while describing battling intense cold and stifling heat — and the other side.
Memories of Service captures the war experiences of Kiwi veterans who served in campaigns from World War II to Korea, Vietnam and beyond. Director David Blyth (Our Oldest Soldier) and Silverdale RSA museum curator Patricia Stroud wanted to make the series of interviews as an “archival/educational treasure for all New Zealanders.” In this selection of stories compiled from the first nine interviews, the returned servicemen recall training, survival, imprisonment, parachuting from crashing planes, lighter moments, and bonds of brotherhood.
In his matter-of-fact way, James Murray reflects on some of the horrors of the War in the Pacific. Joining the New Zealand Navy at 17, Murray found himself aboard an American destroyer, watching the first atomic bomb explode above Hiroshima. “We thought they’d blown up Japan,” he says. Earlier, aboard HMNZS Gambia, he’d watched Japanese kamikaze planes attempting to sink the aircraft carriers his ship was trying to protect. Later he was among the first to land on the Japanese mainland, helping take control of the Yokosuka Naval Base.
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.
When Frank Sanft’s older brother was killed early in World War ll, it only intensified Frank’s determination to serve. Joining the Royal Navy, he was eventually assigned to Operation PLUTO, which involved laying an undersea fuel pipeline between the UK and Cherbourg (vital in keeping Allied vehicles moving, directly after the invasion of France). Frank laughs now at a close call with a sniper ashore in France. Serving in the Pacific, he was there after Singapore’s notorious Changi PoW camp was liberated. In 2017 Sanft was awarded a prestigious French Legion of Honour.
On land, sea and air during World War II, and from Korea to Vietnam, this group of old soldiers remember their years of service. Close calls are common place but often laughed off, but the horror of war is often close to the surface. The third series of interviews from director David Blyth (Our Oldest Soldier) and RSA museum curator Patricia Stroud provide a valuable archive of a time now almost beyond living memory — particularly World War II, as the veterans enter their 90s and beyond.
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.
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.