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.
Lawrence 'Curly' Blyth volunteered for World War 1 despite being under age. In 1916 his rifle brigade was sent to the Western Front, where he fought for 23 days amongst the mud of the Somme. In the final weeks of WW1 Blyth helped liberate the strategic French town of Le Quesnoy from German forces, later winning a French Legion of Honour for his efforts. In this documentary his grandson, director David Blyth, uses interviews and stock footage to chronicle the times at war of his bossy yet personable grandad, who died in 2001, aged 105.
This epic Lee Tamahori-directed promo for the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games imagines the stirrings of Games spirit in the mud of the Western Front, 1917. Behind the lines, soldiers from various 'British Empire' nations (Bruno Lawrence, Tony Barry and a young Joel Tobeck) lay bets to see who is the fastest. After racing they pledge to "do this again sometime eh brother" (referring no doubt to the shared joy of competition, as opposed to 1,115,597 Commonwealth war dead). The first Commonwealth Games were held in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), in 1930.
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.
In Poppy two Kiwi soldiers discover a baby in a muddy WWI trench. For Paddy it will lead to redemption amidst the hell of war. From a David Coyle script — based on his great-grandfather’s war story — Poppy was another successful computer-animation collaboration between producer Paul Swadel and director James Cunningham (Infection, Delf). CGI evokes a bleak Western Front landscape on which the (motion-captured) human drama unfolds. Cunningham spent over 4500 hours making Poppy; the result was acclaim at Siggraph, and invites to Telluride and SXSW festivals.
From the second series of short documentaries remembering New Zealanders in World War I, this episode looks at Ormond Burton. Burton left for war as a 21-year-old, and served as a medic and in the infantry. He was decorated for bravery, and a bible saved him from a bullet. His stance on the justness of war changed after experiencing the horrors of Gallipoli and the Western Front. During World War ll the Methodist minister was jailed as a conscientious objector; later he became a prominent pacifist and anti-Vietnam War campaigner. The series screened during 3 News.
“We’ve chosen someone Hollywood would call an action hero” says Hilary Barry, as she introduces this TV item recalling Kiwi experiences in World War I. The subject is decorated flying ace Keith Caldwell, who left for England in 1916 to join the RAF with only eight hours training (which he’d paid for himself). He became one of the most successful pilots on the Western Front, leading ‘Tiger Squadron’. The short, which screened during 3 News, recounts the dogfights and close escapes that Caldwell negotiated with “splendid skill and fearlessness”.
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.
Director Karl Zohrab’s docudrama makes the case for World War I military leader Major General Sir Andrew Russell to be resurrected in Kiwi popular memory alongside the likes of Freyberg. Based on Jock Vennell's biography, the film spans Russell’s life from his Hawke’s Bay childhood to Gallipoli and the Western Front — where the New Zealand Division commander was acknowledged for his tactical nous — to the latent effect of his war experience. It screened on The History Channel for Anzac Day 2014. Colin Moy (In My Father’s Den) plays Russell in battlefield dramatisations.
This documentary unearths the story of the soldiers in the New Zealand Tunneling Company, whose daring World War I raids involved digging tunnels through chalk rock, laying explosives underneath enemy lines, and countermining German tunneling efforts. The story is told through the eyes of a New Zealand woman who retraces her grandfather’s war story to Arras, France, and sees the Kiwi-tagged cavern 'city' nearly 80 years later. The company played a key role on the Western Front, and was especially recruited in NZ, made up of miners, bushmen and labourers.