This edition of Great War Stories follows the experiences of Kiwi horses in World War I by recounting the story of Bess, the thoroughbred stead of Colonel CG Powles of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment. The two would serve in the Middle East, and on the Western Front. Over 10,000 horses were sent to war; Bess was one of only four to return home. The clip finishes with an Anzac Day remembrance at Bess’s Rangitikei grave. The first series of seven short documentaries screened during TV3's primetime news in 2014; another series followed in 2015.
During World War I five members of the New Zealand Division were executed for military crimes — four for desertion and one for mutiny. Two of them, Victor Spencer and John Braithwaite, are profiled in this episode of Great War Stories. Spencer, an apprentice engineer from Bluff, was twice convicted of desertion, and put to death — despite an officer he'd known at Gallipoli vouching for his good character. Braithwaite was executed for mutiny, after trying to defuse a fight over the inhumane living conditions of military prisons. In 2000 the government pardoned all five executed men.
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'.
When 150 Niuean men were shipped off to Auckland en route to the Western Front, they had no idea what lay ahead. This Great War Story features the granddaughter of one of them, and the historian who researched his journey. Falaoa Tosene was “volunteered” to the NZ Māori Pioneer Battalion as a labourer. Unfamiliar food, uniforms and boots for men who had never worn shoes were the first shocks. In France, they faced freezing temperatures and disease. Tosene was hospitalised with trench foot. He survived, thanks to a former missionary, but 30 of his comrades died.
In World War l Leslie Beauchamp was a soldier in the British Army, who died aged only 21 when a grenade exploded in his hand during a training demonstration. This episode of mini documentary series Great War Stories remembers Beauchamp through the words of his sister, writer Katherine Mansfield. Leslie's time growing up in Wellington is examined, as well as the mutual affection between brother and sister — including samples from letters they wrote to one another, and tributes that Mansfield would pay to him in her fiction and poetry.
When the British troopship The Marquette sank in the Aegean Sea, killing 32 New Zealanders in World War One, it caused outrage in Aotearoa. Their deaths — mainly nurses and medical orderlies — could have been avoided if they had been on a hospital ship, which gave more protection from attack. Instead 167 people died on 23 October 1915 when a German torpedo slammed into their vessel. This Great War Stories episode interviews actor Antonia Prebble about her role in Australian TV series Anzac Girls, playing Marquette survivor nurse Hilda Steele.
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.
Christchurch-born Jessie Scott was a rarity in 1914: a qualified doctor in a male dominated profession. But as this Great War Story shows, her bravery overcame even greater hurdles. Joining the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, Dr Scott treated Serbian and British wounded in the Balkan war against Austria. Left behind during a retreat, she was captured but later released. That didn’t end her war. She went back to the front line, this time serving with Russian forces in Romania. Dr Scott's efforts earned her the Serbian Order of St Sava.
Produced by George Andrews, Great New Zealand River Journeys is a three-part series exploring the history and majesty of the Waikato, Wanganui and Clutha rivers. In this episode, Jon Gadsby explores the Clutha River and surrounds, and finds out about jet-boating and rafting (the cameraman falls in when he gets a little too close to his subject), bungy jumping, the Clyde Dam, Cromwell's giant fruit and Alexandra's giant clock. Gadsby enjoys the ubiquitous whitebait fritters offered by the locals before the journey ends at the mouth of the river.