This 1983 feature explores desire, death, and guilt in a World War II Japanese prisoner of war camp. From Japanese art cinema star Nagisa Oshima (director of the notorious In the Realm of the Senses), its leads were musicians David Bowie (as a defiant captive) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (a conflicted camp commander). The film was mainly shot in Auckland, and partly funded by Broadbank during the tax shelter 80s. Kiwi connections include ex-Broadbank employee Larry Parr as associate producer, first assistant director Lee Tamahori, and actor Alistair Browning as a PoW.
This 1945 newsreel reports on the repatriation of New Zealand prisoners held in Japanese camps during the war in the Pacific. Cameraman Stan Wemyss (grandfather of Russell Crowe) ranges across Asia with the RNZAF — from Changi in Singapore, to camps in Java (Indonesia), and Siam (Thailand). The narration notes grimly that “the movie camera does not record the stench of death”; and returned PoW, Dr Johns of Auckland, implores for the sake of the children: “that the experiences that we have gone through at the hands of the Japanese shall never, never again be possible.”
When Frank Sanft’s older brother was killed early in World War ll, it only intensified Frank’s determination to serve. Joining the Royal Navy, he was eventually assigned to Operation PLUTO, which involved laying an undersea fuel pipeline between the UK and Cherbourg (vital in keeping Allied vehicles moving, directly after the invasion of France). Frank laughs now at a close call with a sniper ashore in France. Serving in the Pacific, he was there after Singapore’s notorious Changi PoW camp was liberated. In 2017 Sanft was awarded a prestigious French Legion of Honour.
Called up at the start of World War II, George Shadbolt spent six years in the British Army. As a member of the Royal Corps of Signals he spent much of it behind the lines, installing and maintaining vital communications networks. Shadbolt — 99 at the time of this interview — covered 1000s of kilometres through North Africa and the Middle East. It wasn’t until late in the war that he saw action in Italy, bringing communications lines to tanks at the front. The task offered little protection; Shadbolt deemed it the army's most dangerous job. Shadbolt passed away on 9 August 2017.
On land, sea and air during World War II, and from Korea to Vietnam, this group of old soldiers remember their years of service. Close calls are common place but often laughed off, but the horror of war is often close to the surface. The third series of interviews from director David Blyth (Our Oldest Soldier) and RSA museum curator Patricia Stroud provide a valuable archive of a time now almost beyond living memory — particularly World War II, as the veterans enter their 90s and beyond.
Bill Dobson was one of around 500 New Zealanders to be taken prisoner by the Germans during World War I. His grandsons, filmmakers Grant and Bryce Campbell, use Dobson’s letters home, his sketch book and contemporary photographs to describe his journey. Bill was one of 210 Kiwis captured at French village Méteren, near the Belgian border, during Germany’s 1918 Spring Offensive. Camp conditions were tough, but Dobson filled his time with prolific sketching and performing in the Camp Concert Party. Post-war, Dobson married vaudeville performer Louise Morris.
During World War ll South Islander Sandy Thomas was fighting in Crete, when he was wounded and captured by the German Army. Unwilling to spend the war in custody he repeatedly plotted escape from hospital, to the point his Houdini efforts became a running joke among his captors. Nevertheless a successful escape attempt from the Salonika Prisoner of War camp would have him fleeing across the continent on his wounded leg, in an attempt to reunite with his comrades. Now retired, having reached the rank of Major General, Walter Babington Thomas recounts his escapades.
When Vince Pierson’s old comrades tried to track him down, years after the Korean War, they couldn’t find him. Pierson had taken another surname when he joined up, to disguise the fact that at 19, he was underage. As a gunner attached to HQ, he was with the New Zealand artillery supporting Australian and Canadian infantry at the Battle of Kapyong. Pierson belies his 85 years with sharp recall and vivid stories of people and places. He shows as much empathy for the Koreans as for his comrades, while describing battling intense cold and stifling heat — and the other side.
In this Memories of Service interview, World War II veteran Ernest Davenport talks about his time in the Royal Air Force. After joining the RAF in 1940 at the age of 18, he served as a warrant officer in the pathfinder force before being shot down over Germany in 1943. He shares stories of his time as a prisoner of war — attempting escape, being charged with sabotage and blackmailing German guards to aid in his eventual rescue. He also shares his various medals from service and artifacts of the war such as his pilot’s log book and the jacket he was wearing when he was shot down.
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.