Children of Gallipoli offered viewers another angle on the Gallipoli story. Produced for TVNZ and Turkish television, the documentary focuses on four young people, two Turks and two New Zealanders. All are descended from men who fought at Gallipoli in 1915. Travelling to Turkey, the Kiwis explore the battle site and meet the other two participants. Together they gain an insight into the grim reality of what their ancestors experienced. Seeing it through their eyes charges the film with a strong emotional resonance. Anna Cottrell writes here about the challenges of directing it.
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.
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.
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.
The youngest of eight children from a prominent Canterbury family, brothers Robin and Gordon Harper signed up eagerly to enlist in World War l. The Harpers fought in Turkey and Egypt as machine gunners with the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, earning medals for their bravery at Hill 60 in Gallipoli. Using their farming skills, the brothers found each other on the battlefield with their distinctive dog whistles. Susan Harper, a relative of the pair, displays a Turkish machine gun one of the brothers brought home. The other sibling was killed in battle in Egypt.
During World War I five members of the New Zealand Division were executed for military crimes — four for desertion and one for mutiny. Two of them, Victor Spencer and John Braithwaite, are profiled in this episode of Great War Stories. Spencer, an apprentice engineer from Bluff, was twice convicted of desertion, and put to death — despite an officer he'd known at Gallipoli vouching for his good character. Braithwaite was executed for mutiny, after trying to defuse a fight over the inhumane living conditions of military prisons. In 2000 the government pardoned all five executed men.
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.
In the northern French town of Le Quesnoy, the names of local streets and landmarks serve notice of a debt to New Zealand. In the final week of World War I Kiwi soldiers freed Le Quesnoy from its German occupiers — thanks partly to a 'magic' ladder, daringly used to scale the town’s 90-foot-high ramparts. Director David Blyth heads to France for the anniversary of Le Quesnoy’s liberation, following the path of one of the liberators: his late grandfather ‘Curly’ Blyth. The doco also includes an interview with Curly, conducted by historian Christopher Pugsley.
Captain Thomas Blake was one of about 40 veterinarians to serve New Zealand in the First World War. He accompanied some of the 10,000 Kiwi farm horses sent to the frontlines in the Middle East and, later France. They faced terrible conditions: sand and heat in Sinai, mud and rain in France, and suffered disease and horrific wounds. This Great War Stories episode explores the tight bond between horse and soldier. In the end, only four horses came home. Blake also made history: while in Egypt, he became the first Kiwi to marry while the troops were on active service.
After her brother joined the army early in World War ll, Doris Coppell decided she’d also sign up when she could. And as she says, “the thought of all those lovely sailors was tempting, so I thought I’d opt for the navy.” And indeed she met her future husband while serving at the HMS Philomel training base in Devonport. Just six weeks later she married the British sailor in a borrowed wedding dress. A spritely 92 when interviewed, Coppell recalls the ups and downs of service life, and the course of her post-war years in the UK with affection. Coppell passed away on 16 July 2016.