This edition of Great War Stories series revisits “a candidate for the darkest day in New Zealand war history” — 12 October 1917. The Passchendaele disaster in Belgium is explored via a letter smuggled home from 23-year-old private Leonard Hart. The front was a quagmire of mud and blood where, in a catastrophic blunder, Kiwi soldiers were shelled by their own artillery fire before being caught in barbed wire, and slaughtered by enemy machine guns. Hart called it “the most appalling slaughter I’ve ever seen.” Presenter Hilary Barry also sings the opening hymn, 'Abide with Me'.
Actor Robyn Malcolm visits the towns of Passchendaele and Ypres in Belgium. Both are near the cemetery where her great uncle, Private George Salmond, is buried. Salmond, an ANZAC signaler, was among the 18,500 New Zealand casualties of World War I. He was killed in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, a victim of a battle recognised as a tragedy of poor planning and preparation. Local war experts pay tribute to the New Zealand soldiers' mettle, and Malcolm looks at the site and reflects on Uncle George and his sacrifice on foreign whenua.
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.
This epic Lee Tamahori-directed promo for the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games imagines the stirrings of Games spirit in the mud of the Western Front, 1917. Behind the lines, soldiers from various 'British Empire' nations (Bruno Lawrence, Tony Barry and a young Joel Tobeck) lay bets to see who is the fastest. After racing they pledge to "do this again sometime eh brother" (referring no doubt to the shared joy of competition, as opposed to 1,115,597 Commonwealth war dead). The first Commonwealth Games were held in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), in 1930.
The tables are turned in the second episode of this online comedy as Sid (Byron Coll) get tongue-tied while being interviewed about being a sexy new doco maker. Sid exhorts his fellow residents to star in a recreation of the town’s battle against a Belgian petrochemical corporation, but actor Molly (Gentiane Lupi) takes direction a bit too enthusiastically. Don Longridge deadpans as deaf Mr Baker, whose fart gag permeates a pair of near wordless scenes with Sid and Bella (Vanessa Stacey). Woodville was selected for London’s Raindance Festival in 2013.
Taste New Zealand presenter Peta Mathias hosts this 2003 Christmas special, featuring festive food and music. Musical guests Hinewehi Mohi, bass-baritone Conal Coad, Brooke Fraser (who sings 'Joy to the World') and King Kapisi perform, share Christmas memories, and cook their favourite seasonal dishes. Mathias herself sings 'O Come All Ye Faithful', backed by students of her old school, St Mary's College in Ponsonby. Other highlights include Mathias making music with King Kapisi, and Mohi's bilingual version of 'Silent Night' with choir Musica Sacra.
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.
Shot down on just his second bombing raid over Germany, James McQueen describes life as a prisoner of war in this interview. Then 93 years old, Invercargill-born McQueen recalls bailing out from a burning Wellington bomber and eventually falling into German hands. After interrogation by the Gestapo he was sent to a p.o.w. camp, where he stayed for two and a half years. McQueen describes life there, his release and the psychological impact of his experiences, including the feeling of failure prompted by his brief time in combat. McQueen passed away on 15 December 2015.
Filmed in France, Belgium and New Zealand, The Vintner's Luck (aka A Heavenly Vintage) is a tale of growing grapes and meeting angels. Belgian actor Jeremie Renier (L'Enfant) stars as Sobran, a poor winemaker who one day encounters an angel. The two make a pact. One day each year, as Sobran's fortunes wax and wane, the angel returns to hear more about Sobran's life. Director Niki Caro adapted Elizabeth Knox's bestselling novel with help from US script consultant Joan Scheckel; the film also reunites Caro with Whale Rider discovery Keisha Castle-Hughes, who plays Sobran's wife.
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.