More than 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas in World War l. Over 18,000 died; at least 40,000 more were wounded. Campaigns involving Kiwis, from Gallipoli to the Western Front, were identity-forming, and the war's effects on society were deep. The World War l Collection is an evolving onscreen remembrance. Military expert Chris Pugsley writes about the collection here.
Made for the Post Office, this 1971 National Film Unit documentary offers a potted history of New Zealand, using postage stamps as the frame. Director David Sims ranges from Māori rock drawings, to Tasman and Cook. Once Pākehā settlers arrive, the film offers a narrative of progress (aside from two world wars) leading to nationhood and industry. Archive photographs, paintings, Edwardian-era scenes and reenactments add to the subjects illustrated on the stamps. The stamps include New Zealand’s first: a full-face portrait of Queen Victoria by Alfred Edward Chalon.
This edition of a series of TV3 shorts retelling Kiwi World War I stories follows Māori soldier Rikihana Carkeek into war. The 24-year-old Te Aute College old boy was working as a clerk in Wellington when he volunteered for the Native Contingent. His grandson, Te Waari Carkeek, a kaumatua at Te Papa, reads excerpts from Rikihana’s diary: recounting waiting for a chance to fight in Malta, and the “hell on earth” carnage of Gallipoli. Carkeek returned home to Otaki and became a Ngāti Raukawa leader. This third episode screened during 3 News on 6 August 2014.
This slot in TV3’s Great War Stories series looks at Kiwi conscientious objector Mark Briggs. In World War I imprisonment faced those who objected to doing their bit for King and country on moral grounds. In 1917 unionist Briggs and 13 others (including Archibald Baxter) were shipped to the front and made an example of via ‘Field Punishment No.1’, which saw the pacifists bound to a post in the open, then forced into the trenches. Archive material and art by Wellington's Bob Kerr depict the torture in this short documentary, which screened during 3 News in 2014.
This episode from the TV3 series of mini World War I stories looks at Harold Gillies and Henry Pickerill, two pioneers of plastic surgery who grafted “new hope onto despair” for soldiers whose faces had been demolished by war. The short details new methods the pair developed at Sidcup in England, a specialist unit set up by Gilles. It conveys the bravery of the surgeons and nurses in the face of appalling injuries, as well as the courage and “unquenchable optimism” of the patients. Presented by Hilary Barry, Great War Stories screened during 3 News.
Director Karl Zohrab’s docudrama makes the case for World War I military leader Major General Sir Andrew Russell to be resurrected in Kiwi popular memory alongside the likes of Freyberg. Based on Jock Vennell's biography, the film spans Russell’s life from his Hawke’s Bay childhood to Gallipoli and the Western Front — where the New Zealand Division commander was acknowledged for his tactical nous — to the latent effect of his war experience. It screened on The History Channel for Anzac Day 2014. Colin Moy (In My Father’s Den) plays Russell in battlefield dramatisations.
In Poppy two Kiwi soldiers discover a baby in a muddy WWI trench. For Paddy it will lead to redemption amidst the hell of war. From a David Coyle script — based on his great-grandfather’s war story — Poppy was another successful computer-animation collaboration between producer Paul Swadel and director James Cunningham (Infection, Delf). CGI evokes a bleak Western Front landscape on which the (motion-captured) human drama unfolds. Cunningham spent over 4500 hours making Poppy; the result was acclaim at Siggraph, and invites to Telluride and SXSW festivals.
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.
Hilary Barry presents this episode from the third series of Great War Stories. The subject is Alexander Aitken, a veteran of World War l who would later become a world-renowned mathematician. Aitken wrote an acclaimed war memoir (Gallipoli to the Somme) which a student reads from at Aitken's old school, Otago Boys' High, on Anzac Day. The story of the violin he kept by his side at Gallipoli is told, and a musical arrangement of Aitken's is played. The short documentaries were made for the centenary of World War l, and screened during TV3’s nightly news.
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'.