Great War Stories is a series of 35 four-minute documentaries remembering New Zealanders in World War l. The first season debuted in 2014, a century after the war began. Screening during TV3's prime time news, the bite-sized docos chronicle Kiwi experiences in the conflict, from soldiers, pilots, nurses, rugby players and war horses, to tragedies on land and sea. NZ Herald writer Greg Dixon praised the series as "an object lesson in how a tiny part can speak for the whole". Great War Stories was directed and produced by Anna Cottrell (Children of Gallipoli).
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.
This episode from the TV3 series of mini World War I stories looks at Harold Gillies and Henry Pickerill, two pioneers of plastic surgery who grafted “new hope onto despair” for soldiers whose faces had been demolished by war. The short details new methods the pair developed at Sidcup in England, a specialist unit set up by Gilles. It conveys the bravery of the surgeons and nurses in the face of appalling injuries, as well as the courage and “unquenchable optimism” of the patients. Presented by Hilary Barry, Great War Stories 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”.
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.”
This edition of Great War Stories series revisits “a candidate for the darkest day in New Zealand war history” — 12 October 1917. The Passchendaele disaster in Belgium is explored via a letter smuggled home from 23-year-old private Leonard Hart. The front was a quagmire of mud and blood where, in a catastrophic blunder, Kiwi soldiers were shelled by their own artillery fire before being caught in barbed wire, and slaughtered by enemy machine guns. Hart called it “the most appalling slaughter I’ve ever seen.” Presenter Hilary Barry also sings the opening hymn, 'Abide with Me'.
This slot in TV3’s Great War Stories series looks at Kiwi conscientious objector Mark Briggs. In World War I imprisonment faced those who objected to doing their bit for King and country on moral grounds. In 1917 unionist Briggs and 13 others (including Archibald Baxter) were shipped to the front and made an example of via ‘Field Punishment No.1’, which saw the pacifists bound to a post in the open, then forced into the trenches. Archive material and art by Wellington's Bob Kerr depict the torture in this short documentary, which screened during 3 News in 2014.
This edition of a series of TV3 shorts retelling Kiwi World War I stories follows Māori soldier Rikihana Carkeek into war. The 24-year-old Te Aute College old boy was working as a clerk in Wellington when he volunteered for the Native Contingent. His grandson, Te Waari Carkeek, a kaumatua at Te Papa, reads excerpts from Rikihana’s diary: recounting waiting for a chance to fight in Malta, and the “hell on earth” carnage of Gallipoli. Carkeek returned home to Otaki and became a Ngāti Raukawa leader. This third episode screened during 3 News on 6 August 2014.
Narrated by Hilary Barry and screening on 3 News, this series of short documentaries profiles New Zealanders involved in World War I. This episode looks at sexual health campaigner Ettie Rout, who was determined to tackle the high venereal disease rate amongst Kiwi soldiers. Her biographer Jane Tolerton tells of Rout advocating for prophylactic kits, and setting up a safe sex brothel in France. Rout attracted controversy and censorship, and was scorned by the establishment as immoral. But soldiers and doctors thanked her as the "guardian angel of the ANZACs".
In Wellington, Hāmi Grace was respected for his cricketing and rugby prowess. In Gallipoli, his sniper skills became legendary. This four minute short documentary uses Grace's diary entries to recount his experiences at Gallipoli with the Wellington Battalion. The former Wellington College pupil turned lieutenant wrote about the squalid conditions, graves "everywhere", and fighting the Turks. Grace was killed at Chunuk Bair in August 1915. Every year Wellington College holds a remembrance ceremony for Grace and the 29 other former pupils who died in Gallipoli.
This episode of the series about New Zealanders in World War I looks at Lottie Le Gallais. The Auckland nurse worked on the hospital 'mercy' ship Maheno, which transported wounded soldiers from Anzac Cove at Gallipoli. She arrived to find her brother Leddie had been killed. Te Papa exhibition Gallipoli: The Scale of our War featured a large-scale model of Le Gallais learning of Leddie's death, crafted by Weta Workshop. Weta boss Richard Taylor is interviewed here. The series was narrated by Hilary Barry, and screened during 3 News.
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.
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.
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.
When Taranaki farmer and lawyer William Malone signed up to fight in World War l, he was the oldest man in the Wellington Battalion. But far from being frail, 56-year-old Colonel Malone was fit and disciplined. The Parihaka veteran became one of New Zealand's most important figures at Gallipoli. This short documentary about Kiwis in World War l uses Malone's diary entries and an interview with his great-great-great grandson to tell the remarkable story of Malone's battalion capturing Chunuk Bair, on 8 August 1915. Malone was killed that day by Allied artillery.
Hilary Barry presents this episode from the third series of Great War Stories. The subject is Alexander Aitken, a veteran of World War l who would later become a world-renowned mathematician. Aitken wrote an acclaimed war memoir (Gallipoli to the Somme) which a student reads from at Aitken's old school, Otago Boys' High, on Anzac Day. The story of the violin he kept by his side at Gallipoli is told, and a musical arrangement of Aitken's is played. The short documentaries were made for the centenary of World War l, and screened during TV3’s nightly news.
This edition of Great War Stories accompanies author Shona Riddell to Berhampore Primary School in Wellington, where she reads her story of a pet tortoise that she grew up with. It was taken from the trenches of Gallipoli by a soldier, gifted to hospital nurse Nora Hughes (Riddell’s great aunt), then transported to New Zealand, where the tortoise’s adventures didn’t end: he made local news on a walkabout to Mangatainoka Brewery. The series of short documentaries screened during TV3’s nightly news, as part of centennial commemorations of World War l.
This first episode from the third series of Great War Stories chronicles HMS New Zealand, a navy battleship that served in the Royal Navy (New Zealand didn’t have a navy in World War I). The ‘first class battleship’ was paid for by New Zealand to aid British sea power. Nearly half the population of New Zealand visited the ship when it visited in 1913. Its role in the Battle of Jutland is explored, including a ‘lucky charm’ piupiu worn by its captain in battle. The series of short documentaries screened during TV3’s nightly news, as part of Great War centennial commemorations.
In World War l Leslie Beauchamp was a soldier in the British Army, who died aged only 21 when a grenade exploded in his hand during a training demonstration. This episode of mini documentary series Great War Stories remembers Beauchamp through the words of his sister, writer Katherine Mansfield. Leslie's time growing up in Wellington is examined, as well as the mutual affection between brother and sister — including samples from letters they wrote to one another, and tributes that Mansfield would pay to him in her fiction and poetry.
Peter Howden’s daily letters to his wife Rhoda during World War I provide one of the most comprehensive accounts of what life was like for a Kiwi soldier in the trenches at Passchendaele in Belgium. In his letters, read in this short documentary by his great-grandson, he tells of camping out within the sightline of the enemy, dugouts formed in disused trenches, and the treacherous terrain the soldiers had to navigate. Howden would fall victim to a gas attack which left him blind, and eventually caused his death on 17 October 1917.
All Black Ranji Wilson was 30 when he set off for France to fight with the Rifle Brigade during WWl. When he wasn't involved with trench warfare, his rugby skills were used to full advantage. Wilson vice captained the "Trench Blacks" to win against the French in 1918. After France (where he was injured at the Battle of Havrincourt), Wilson visited South Africa but wasn't allowed to play rugby because he was "coloured". Wilson, whose father was West Indian, became an All Black selector on his return to New Zealand and died in Lower Hutt in 1953.
When the British troopship The Marquette sank in the Aegean Sea, killing 32 New Zealanders in World War One, it caused outrage in Aotearoa. Their deaths — mainly nurses and medical orderlies — could have been avoided if they had been on a hospital ship, which gave more protection from attack. Instead 167 people died on 23 October 1915 when a German torpedo slammed into their vessel. This Great War Stories episode interviews actor Antonia Prebble about her role in Australian TV series Anzac Girls, playing Marquette survivor nurse Hilda Steele.
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.
Christchurch-born Jessie Scott was a rarity in 1914: a qualified doctor in a male dominated profession. But as this Great War Story shows, her bravery overcame even greater hurdles. Joining the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, Dr Scott treated Serbian and British wounded in the Balkan war against Austria. Left behind during a retreat, she was captured but later released. That didn’t end her war. She went back to the front line, this time serving with Russian forces in Romania. Dr Scott's efforts earned her the Serbian Order of St Sava.
When 150 Niuean men were shipped off to Auckland en route to the Western Front, they had no idea what lay ahead. This Great War Story features the granddaughter of one of them, and the historian who researched his journey. Falaoa Tosene was “volunteered” to the NZ Māori Pioneer Battalion as a labourer. Unfamiliar food, uniforms and boots for men who had never worn shoes were the first shocks. In France, they faced freezing temperatures and disease. Tosene was hospitalised with trench foot. He survived, thanks to a former missionary, but 30 of his comrades died.
Harry Varnham was scarred both physically and mentally by his experience of World War One. In this episode of Great War Stories, his family explain why they believe the trauma of war eventually led him to take his own life decades later. Wounded during the Battle of Messines in Belgium, Varnham returned to the front and was seriously wounded again at Le Quesnoy. He was evacuated to London; he was just 19 when his leg was amputated. Back in New Zealand, Varnham married later in life and had two daughters, but he never overcame the mental scars from his time serving in WWI.
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.
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.
For Kiwi-Chinese soldier Victor Low, World War I was fought mainly underground. Dunedin-born Low was a surveyor attached to the New Zealand Tunnelling Company, which created a network of caverns and tunnels in France before the Battle of Arras in April 1917. The complex was big enough to accommodate 12,000 soldiers and equipment. This episode of Great War Stories uses archive footage and modern laser scanning to map out the tunnels that still exist under the battlefield. Later, Low helped create the famous Bulford Kiwi which sits above Sling Camp in England.