This edition of the New Zealand history series looks at the beginning of World War II. With war declared in 1939 NZ faces the new decade with a call to arms. Presenter Bernard Kearns explains how Kiwis mobilised and set sail for the Middle East, before being sent to Greece and Crete where overwhelming German superiority sent them into retreat. Prime Minister Peter Fraser explains the defeat to New Zealanders in an NFU newsreel filmed in Egypt. The contemporary footage also shows the victory at the naval Battle of the River Plate and looks at some Kiwi war heroes.
Lawrence 'Curly' Blyth volunteered for World War 1 despite being under age. In 1916 his rifle brigade was sent to the Western Front, where he fought for 23 days amongst the mud of the Somme. In the final weeks of WW1 Blyth helped liberate the strategic French town of Le Quesnoy from German forces, later winning a French Legion of Honour for his efforts. In this documentary his grandson, director David Blyth, uses interviews and stock footage to chronicle the times at war of his bossy yet personable grandad, who died in 2001, aged 105.
For Kiwi-Chinese soldier Victor Low, World War I was fought mainly underground. Dunedin-born Low was a surveyor attached to the New Zealand Tunnelling Company, which created a network of caverns and tunnels in France before the Battle of Arras in April 1917. The complex was big enough to accommodate 12,000 soldiers and equipment. This episode of Great War Stories uses archive footage and modern laser scanning to map out the tunnels that still exist under the battlefield. Later, Low helped create the famous Bulford Kiwi which sits above Sling Camp in England.
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.
Harry Varnham was scarred both physically and mentally by his experience of World War One. In this episode of Great War Stories, his family explain why they believe the trauma of war eventually led him to take his own life decades later. Wounded during the Battle of Messines in Belgium, Varnham returned to the front and was seriously wounded again at Le Quesnoy. He was evacuated to London; he was just 19 when his leg was amputated. Back in New Zealand, Varnham married later in life and had two daughters, but he never overcame the mental scars from his time serving in WWI.
The excitement of training and the thrill of travelling overseas form the start of Ron Mayhill’s reminiscences in this episode of Memories of Service. But serving with 75 Squadron, Bomber Command, brings home the reality of World War II. Mayhill gives unflinching and vivid descriptions of flying as a bomb aimer on raids over France and Germany. He survived 27 missions before being wounded; many of his comrades weren’t so lucky. Yet looking back at the age of 90, Mayhill also recalls the sheer beauty of the night sky as he flew into battle.
Children of Gallipoli offered viewers another angle on the Gallipoli story. Produced for TVNZ and Turkish television, the documentary focuses on four young people, two Turks and two New Zealanders. All are descended from men who fought at Gallipoli in 1915. Travelling to Turkey, the Kiwis explore the battle site and meet the other two participants. Together they gain an insight into the grim reality of what their ancestors experienced. Seeing it through their eyes charges the film with a strong emotional resonance. Anna Cottrell writes here about the challenges of directing it.
Robyn Malcolm is one of New Zealand television’s best-loved actors. An accomplished stage performer before moving into screen roles, she is best known for six seasons as Outrageous Fortune matriarch Cheryl West. Malcolm has appeared in television (Shortland Street, Agent Anna, Upper Middle Bogan), movies (The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell) and documentaries (Our Lost War).
Ada (Holly Hunter) has been mute since she was six. She travels from Scotland with her daughter (Anna Paquin) and her grand piano to colonial New Zealand, for an arranged marriage. When her husband, a stoic settler (Sam Neill) sells the piano to Baines (Harvey Keitel), Ada and Baines come to a secret agreement. She can win her piano back key by key by playing for him, as he acts out his desire for her. An especially big hit in Europe, Jane Campion's Oscar-winning tale of sexual emancipation in the bush is the only NZ film to have won the top award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Stewart Main is a director noted for his strong sense of visual style, and commitment to themes of individuality and sexuality. Alongside his own projects (including 2005 feature 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous), a fruitful partnership with Peter Wells has produced several noted dramatic and documentary films, including colonial-set bodice-ripper Desperate Remedies.