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.
This early National Film Unit newsreel traces the aftermath of the World War II Battle for Crete. It shows the arrival in Egypt of defeated New Zealand soldiers after their evacuation. However more than 2000 New Zealanders were left behind and captured by the Germans. The film also features Lieutenant Winton Ryan, whose platoon acted as bodyguard to Greece's King George II — they accompanied him during his flight across Cretan mountain passes to safety. For the people back home Prime Minister Peter Fraser puts an optimistic gloss on a comprehensive defeat.
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.
In this The Years Back episode Bernard Kearns charts New Zealand's 6th Brigade and Maori Battalion as they fight their way through Italy between 1943 and 1945. Reaching Monte Cassino in 1944, the force suffered 1600 casualties in 12 weeks of bitter fighting. Using NFU pictures, the documentary traces the advance north after Cassino falls, and includes the bloodless capture of Padua and the setting up of the New Zealand Forces Club in the best hotel in Venice. The documentary ends with Kiwi forces facing down Tito's Yugoslav partisans in Trieste.
World War II veteran Everard Otto volunteered for the Territorials at 18, helping supply Americans troops based in New Zealand. But his real war story began when he turned 21 and was sent overseas. He eventually arrived in Italy as a staff car driver. Mostly behind the lines, Otto’s memory of service is based around the brutal battles for Monte Cassino, watching the cruel fighting and bombing that razed the famous hilltop monastery. Returning decades later he found the countryside largely unchanged. He even found the dugout where he spent four eventful months.
In early 1944 the Italian town of Cassino was the site of a devastating World War II battle. Kiwi soldiers were part of the Allied forces attacking a German-held stronghold. New Zealand General Bernard Freyberg made the decision to bomb the town, including an iconic 1,400 year-old hilltop monastery. Both sides suffered heavy losses as the Nazis utilised the ruins to their advantage. This documentary follows Kiwi veterans CJ 'Brick' Lorimer and Stewart Black (aka Tai Paraki) as they return to confront the brutality and horror of war, as part of events marking the battle's 60th anniversary.
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.
Les Andrews, QSM, began singing with the Kiwi Concert Party during World War II. After the war he studied at London’s Royal College of Music, and sang on BBC television. Back home he was one of the first faces on air when local television began transmitting, and later spent four years hosting quiz show Personality Squares. With his wife Sonia, he was a busy patron of the arts. Andrews died on 28 February 2014.
British-born Malcolm Hall moved from newspaper journalism into television, after emigrating downunder. Since then his career as a producer and director has seen him helming current affairs, comedy, children's TV, and varied documentaries which have screened around the globe. At the turn of the millennium, Hall began making television for company NHNZ.
Anthony Stones worked in design for NZ television for over 20 years, with credits ranging from drama to current affairs. After five years as TV2's head of design, he returned to his English birthplace in 1983. Outside of television, Stones made well-known public sculptures in Aotearoa, the UK and China; he died in China in September 2016, aged 82. Image credit: Photo taken and supplied by Dave Roberts