The Years Back was a documentary series that used archive footage and interviews to survey New Zealand’s 20th century history. This episode details events in the Pacific during World War II, from Japan’s 1941 attack of Pearl Harbour through to mid 1944. Japan’s aggressive thrust into South East Asia threatened New Zealand and Australia (“any day now it’ll be us”), and forced the countries into war close to home. Veterans and commanders recall sea battles, rallying of air defences and jungle warfare, from New Caledonia to New Guinea.The series was made by the National Film Unit.
A beautiful Wellington day greets passengers from the Southern Cross at the start of this 1950s magazine film. Seen here on her maiden voyage around the world, the cruise ship Southern Cross was built to carry immigrants from Europe. Meanwhile, students at what was then New Zealand's only fully residential teachers' college (near Auckland) are seen studying, before taking time off for dancing and sport. A trip to New Caledonia rounds up the report with the unveiling the Cross of Sacrifice, a memorial to the 449 Kiwis who died without a grave in the South Pacific during WWII.
Starting his World War II military service in the army, Jack Harold was soon transferred to the navy. He saw active service at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, and was aboard minesweeper HMNZS Moa when it and sister ship HMNZS Kiwi engaged a Japanese sub, eventually sinking it after the Kiwi dropped depth charges. The Moa’s luck didn’t hold; it was sunk in a Japanese raid, taking five of its crew with it. Jack survived, and returned to action in the Pacific aboard submarine-hunting ships. Jack Harold was discharged from the Navy in 1945; he passed away on 15 April 2017.
Feeling burnt out, director Tony Williams takes his seachange literally and sets off with three mates in his recently restored 66-foot motorboat, with a grown-up son as cameraman. The plan: journey from Sydney to the Coral Sea. They witness an eclipse, find paradise in Vanuatu, and island-hop their way through New Caledonian reefs, soon after witnessing French victory in the 1998 (soccer) World Cup. Near journey’s end, a reflective Williams realises that he has experienced not just a holiday, but also “an opportunity to look at your own world from a distance”.
Colin Ramsey was rejected on medical grounds when he volunteered for World War ll, but not long after, he was called up and soon found himself training at Papakura Military Camp. An ambulance driver in the 3rd New Zealand Division, the first part of Colin’s war was in the Pacific. The realities of the conflict hit home while serving in the Solomons. He and his comrades were sent to collect the American casualties of a Japanese bombing raid, a grizzly experience. At 93, Colin’s memory is sharp as he vividly recalls his experiences.
This Māori Television documentary pays tribute to the nearly 20,000 Kiwis who fought against the Japanese in the Pacific during WWll. Using interviews with soldiers, locals and historians, director Iulia Leilua tells stories of bravery and brutality in New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Seaman Jack Harold recalls helping sink a Japanese submarine at Guadalcanal, while former Papua New Guinea Governor-General Sir Paulias Matane shares childhood memories of living in fear. New Zealanders fought in the Pacific for two years.
Actor Ilona Rodgers made her name with a starring role as magazine editor Maxine Redfern in prime-time soap Gloss. But Rodgers' career began in her native England; her globetrotting career has seen her acting alongside Doctor Who, The Beverly Hillbillies, and the inhabitants of Marlin Bay.
Director, producer and editor Lala Rolls has made short films, music videos and documentaries (Land of My Ancestors). She has filmed throughout the Pacific Islands, and her work has screened in New Zealand and international film festivals.
The films of Jim Marbrook include feature-length documentaries on speed chess maestros (2003 award-winner Dark Horse), psychiatric hospitals (Mental Notes) and environmental issues in New Caledonia (Cap Bocage). Marbrook also lectures in screen and television at Auckland University of Technology.