This special edition of the National Film Unit’s monthly magazine series looks at some of the “people, places and events filmed by our cameramen during the years 1941 - 1962”. The NFU’s 21st birthday review — compiled by David H Fowler — ranges from wartime newsreels to the post-war boom (factories, dams, industrial agriculture), from salvos to Peter Snell. Other images include Kiwi soldiers playing rugby in Korea, and cigarettes hanging from the lips of firemen fighting Christchurch's Ballantyne Department Store fire in 1947.
With the phrase “we were lucky to get away with it” and a ready laugh, 97-year-old Douglas Smith describes some of the close calls he had as a trainee and later bomber pilot during World War ll. Luck yes, but skill too, as he survived a 30 mission tour of duty. Douglas first tasted action flying a small, twin engine Dakota Boston over France and the Netherlands. Graduating to four engine Lancasters, he took part in huge raids over some of Germany’s biggest cities. Never afraid himself, he laments the vast loss of life among friends and enemies.
Howard Monk was just 15 when he joined the army, turning 16 during basic training. When the Air Force came looking for recruits he was reluctant to join, despite the extra one shilling and sixpence per day. But he was recruited anyway, and discovered he was a natural pilot. Clearly a natural storyteller as well, Monk enjoyed his service, flying fighters in the Pacific theatre late in the war. But by then the Japanese had few serviceable aircraft to fly, and to his regret he never engaged in aerial combat.
From those who joined up in World War ll to the relative youngsters who saw action in Vietnam, this selection of clips is collected from the fourth series of interviews with ex-servicemen sharing their memories of service. The stories of these men and women range from the comical to the horrific. Age has taken its toll on their bodies but the memories remain sharp. Made by director David Blyth (Our Oldest Soldier) and Hibiscus Coast Community RSA Museum curator Patricia Stroud, the interviews are a valuable record of WWll and conflict in South East Asia.
John Wilkinson didn’t realise until after the end of World War ll that he’d broken his back when the plane he was piloting in North Africa was shot down. Captured and beaten up by Italian soldiers, interrogated by the Gestapo, John eventually ended up in the notorious Stalag Luft III prison camp in what is now Poland. He was involved in the Wooden Horse Escape, one of the most famous of the war. Later he would meet his future wife at the camp, a displaced person from Lithuania. Now 95, John’s memory of his wartime experiences remains undimmed.
Solo is a story about three people on the edge of nowhere, struggling to decide how much of themselves to share with those they care about. Young Australian hitchhiker Judy romances solo Dad Paul, who finds peace flying fire patrol planes above the forest. Paul's precocious son reacts badly to losing pole position to Judy, and takes to the air. Inspired partly by the oft-painful times when we are "more acutely in touch” with our emotions, Tony Williams' romance helped launch the Kiwi movie renaissance. But as he writes in the backgrounder, there was no fun in filming it three times.
“One of nature’s gentlemen” and “very nice, always correct,” that’s the bottom line for many of the guests honouring World War II fighter ace Johnny Checketts in this 1990 This is Your Life. The Kiwi pilot shot down 14 and a half enemy aircraft (one was shared) but plays down his own heroics. He can’t control the emotion though when he meets a French woman who helped rescue him after being shot down over enemy territory and who he hasn’t seen in 50 years. Checketts is also joined by friends, family and colleagues, including the man who taught him to fly.
Keith Boles was certain he wanted to join the air force when the Second World War broke out, and it wasn’t long before he was a flying instructor. Evacuated from Singapore when the Japanese invaded, Boles eventually found himself in the United Kingdom, with an Advanced Flying Unit. A transfer to operations with Bomber Command saw him piloting de Havilland Mosquito bombers and being trained in the use of the top secret Oboe targeting system. Being part of a pathfinder unit was, he says, the safest job in Bomber Command and he came through his service unscathed.
This compilation episode culls stories from nine new Memories of Service interviews. From Crete to Monte Cassino, the war in the Pacific to the Korean War, former servicemen and women tell their tales in fascinating detail. Divided into broad sections ('Enlisting', 'Battles', 'Occupation of Japan'), there are stories of training, narrow escapes, attack from the air, and sad goodbyes. Director David Blyth and Silverdale RSA museum curator Patricia Stroud’s series of interviews are a valuable archive of a period rapidly fading from memory.
Phil Keoghan’s pre-Amazing Race screen education included profiling Kiwi adventure sport thrillseekers in a series of short vignettes for TV3’s Mobil Sport. Scored to a sampler of early 90s pop music, these clips focus mostly on rad airborne acrobats: a ‘para-bungee’, the then-new sport of skysurfing, riding atop a Tiger Moth, Phil losing the sponsor’s product flying with veteran fighter pilot Bryan Cox, plus surfing down sand dunes on snowboards. Keoghan later took the Keoghan’s Heroes concept to Canada and the United States (including a slot on CBS news).