More than 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas in World War l. Over 18,000 died; at least 40,000 more were wounded. Campaigns involving Kiwis, from Gallipoli to the Western Front, were identity-forming, and the war's effects on society were deep. The World War l Collection is an evolving onscreen remembrance. Military expert Chris Pugsley writes about the collection here.
This collection brings together 50+ titles covering Kiwis at war. Iconic documentaries and films tell stories of terrible cost, heroism and kinship. There are also background pieces by Chris Pugsley, Jock Phillips, and broadcaster Ian Johnstone. Pugsley muses, "It is sobering to think that in the first half of the 20th Century the big OE for most New Zealanders was going to war."
Celebrating the 75th anniversary of government filmmakers the National Film Unit, this collection pulls highlights from the 370+ wartime newsreels, tourism promos and Oscar nominees from the NFU which can be watched on NZ On Screen. Curated by NFU expert Clive Sowry, the collection includes backgrounders by Roger Horrocks, plus Film Unit alumni Sam Pillsbury, Paul Maunder, Arthur Everard and Lynton Diggle.
This wartime propaganda film from the NFU celebrates the role of women in the Air Force. Established in 1941 to free up men for other duties, more than 4,700 women served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during WWII. The film is also a recruitment vehicle. It shows WAAF members in traditional (for the time) roles such as sewing and typing. But more male-dominated jobs are being taken on as women are trained as metal workers, mechanics and drivers. And when they’re not working, the women relax by "knitting, drinking a cup of tea and talking."
Directed by Annie Goldson (Brother Number One), this 1995 TV documentary explores the story of Cecil Holmes, who won Cold War notoriety in 1948 when he was smeared as a communist agent, while working as a director for the National Film Unit. This excerpt — the opening 10 minutes — revisits the infamous snatching of Holmes' satchel outside Parliament, his Palmerston North upbringing, war service, and the founding of the Government's National Film Unit. There are excerpts from a 1980 interview where Holmes describes his inspirations (including UK film Night Mail).
Home by Christmas sees Gaylene Preston returning to the hidden stories of ordinary New Zealanders. Inspired by attempts to get her father Ed to reveal his WWII experiences, this finely-balanced docu-drama moves between three strands: Preston’s father (Goodbye Pork Pie's Tony Barry, in a Qantas award-winning performance) retelling his story; recreations of Ed’s wartime OE; and life for the woman he left behind in Greymouth. The dream cast sees Preston’s own daughter Chelsie Preston Crayford playing Preston's mother Tui, alongside Martin Henderson.
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.
In 2014 a series of short documentaries began screening on 3 News, describing Kiwi experiences in World War I. This debut item tells the home front story of Annette Liverpool, wife of the Governor of New Zealand, and her wartime charity work. In 1914 she founded the Lady Liverpool League, providing comfort parcels and support services for Kiwi soldiers on the front lines. League groups formed throughout the country, inspired by Her Excellency’s Knitting Book: “We all must do our bit; the men go forth to battle, The women wait — and knit.”
Nina (Aleksandra Vujcic) has emigrated downunder from wartime Croatia. When she falls in love with Māori cook Eddie (Julian Arahanga) and marries a Chinese man who is trying to stay in NZ, her domineering father Ivan is furious. The second movie from Gregor Nicholas remains one of the few from NZ in which Pākehā culture hardly features. The result was one of the highest-grossing NZ films of the 1990s. International reviews praised its power and strong cast — especially Croatian discovery Aleksandra Vujcic ("instantly alluring" said Janet Maslin). Vujcic won one of five NZ Film awards.
This wartime edition of the NFU's newsreel series opens with a one and a half mile Wellington harbour swim at Evans Bay. Then it's up to Dannevirke for an A&P show for sheep dog trials and show jumping spills. The reel ends with a visit to the NZ Expeditionary Force's Christmas celebrations while fighting in Italy. There's mail from home, hospital romance, malarky in the snow as poultry and wine is chased, and Māori Battalion soldiers roast a pig. Ambulances are a reminder that war goes on; and on the frontline machine gun crews help keep "Jerry below ground".