The Years Back was a 13-part documentary series made for television by the National Film Unit and first broadcast in 1973. Covering six decades from 1900 to 1960, it was promoted as "people and events that shaped the New Zealand of today", and content was largely influenced by what historic film had survived. Presented by Bernard Kearns, fascinating footage (including the 1931 Napier Earthquake and Jack Lovelock’s 1936 Olympic triumph) is accompanied by interviewees recalling or commenting on past events, big and small, as they unfold on the screen.

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The Years Back - 10, The Final Peace (Episode 10)

Television, 1973 (Full Length Episode)

The end of World War II is in sight in the 10th episode of this NZ 20th Century history series. But there's still fighting to be done by New Zealand troops and their allies as they battle tenacious Japanese forces in the Pacific. Future Prime Minister Jack Marshall addresses his men in the jungle, and war correspondent Stan Wemyss recalls being under fire with Fijian troops in the jungles of Bougainville (while his footage of the event plays). When the war finally ends, Prime Minister Peter Fraser delivers his victory speech and there is dancing in the streets.

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The Years Back - 11, A Place in Asia (Episode 11)

Television, 1973 (Full Length Episode)

With the Second World War over, Kiwis stood with their more powerful allies in the occupation of Japan. But with Britain increasingly preoccupied with its home affairs and Europe, New Zealand began to set its own foreign policy agenda. In this episode of The Years Back presenter Bernard Kearns explains how New Zealand turned to its own backyard to create new export markets. That also meant military involvement in Korea and Malaya and a sometimes fumbling attempt at being a colonial power in the Pacific.

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The Years Back - 12, The Big Ice (Episode 12)

Television, 1973 (Full Length Episode)

New Zealand's relationship with Antarctica and the explorers and scientists who went there is the focus of this episode in The Years Back series, with Bernard Kearns as guide. Early last century NZ was the starting point for most polar expeditions, including Robert Falcon Scott's fatal attempt to reach the Pole. Footage of Scott on the ice is featured, and as well as clips of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic survival tale. Of course the Sir Edmund Hillary-led 50s Kiwi expedition is shown: Hillary made a defiant dash for the Pole on tractors, arriving 4 January 1958.

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The Years Back - 13, The State of the Nation (Episode 13)

Television, 1973 (Full Length Episode)

This consolidating episode of the archive-based New Zealand history series finds World War II at an end, the return of Kiwi servicemen and the country in an optimistic mood. That's sealed by the 1950 British Empire Games where New Zealand is third on the medal table. But rising prices and low incomes lead to more militant unionism, culminating in the fractious waterfront workers dispute of 1951. At the same time there's a new flowering of the arts. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is established and a new generation of writers and artists take centre stage.

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The Years Back - 1, The Twentieth Century (Episode One)

Television, 1973 (Full Length Episode)

Made for television, this 13-part National Film Unit series aimed to showcase "people and events that shaped the New Zealand of today". The Bernard Kearns-presented series is mostly composed of footage taken from NFU stock. Fascinating early film clips are accompanied by interviews with elderly gents and ladies who reminisce about events as they unfold on the screen. This edition focuses on the opening decades of the 20th century; the nostalgia takes a dark turn when bow tie-wearing Kearns discusses World War I and provides alarming statistics of loss of life.

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The Years Back - 2, The Twenties (Episode Two)

Television, 1973 (Full Length Episode)

In this episode of the archive-compiled history series, Bernard Kearns focuses on the Roaring Twenties. Soldiers returning from the First World War struggle to tame the land as commodity prices fall. The Labour Party, with miners as its backbone, gains a foothold on the political scene, and the Ratana Church emerges as an alternative to more distant Māori leaders. In Dunedin, the New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition proves a huge success and members of the Royal Family are popular visitors to our shores. But the Great Depression looms.

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The Years Back - 3, The Thirties (Episode Three)

Television, 1973 (Full Length Episode)

Bernard Kearns presents a survey of NZ life in the 30s in this episode of the National Film Unit series The Years Back (“people and events that shaped the New Zealand of today”). The documentary includes a wealth of footage taken from NFU stock: the aftermath of the 1931 Napier earthquake, the Depression (as Kearns bluntly states, “there was a lot of misery in the 30s”), and runner Jack Lovelock’s gold medal triumph at the Berlin Olympics. There’s also editorial flair as King George VI’s lavish coronation ceremony is juxtaposed with the A&P show back home.

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The Years Back - 4, The New Decade (Episode Four)

Television, 1973 (Full Length Episode)

This edition of the New Zealand history series looks at the beginning of World War II. With war declared in 1939 NZ faces the new decade with a call to arms. Presenter Bernard Kearns explains how Kiwis mobilised and set sail for the Middle East, before being sent to Greece and Crete where overwhelming German superiority sent them into retreat. Prime Minister Peter Fraser explains the defeat to New Zealanders in an NFU newsreel filmed in Egypt. The contemporary footage also shows the victory at the naval Battle of the River Plate and looks at some Kiwi war heroes.

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The Years Back - 5, The Desert (Episode Five)

Television, 1973 (Full Length Episode)

In this episode of the The Years Back presenter Bernard Kearns explores New Zealand's part in the famous campaign against Rommel in the Libyan Desert. Using rare footage of the action and contemporary post-battle reconstructions, the episode follows the New Zealand 2nd Division in the lead up to the battle of El Alamein and pursuit of the German Afrika Korps, and victory under the guidance of legendary British commander Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. A notable moment is Kiwi Sergeant Keith Elliott being presented with his VC for his deeds at Ruweisat Ridge.

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The Years Back - 6, The Italian Campaign (Episode Six)

Television, 1973 (Full Length Episode)

In this The Years Back episode Bernard Kearns charts New Zealand's 6th Brigade and Maori Battalion as they fight their way through Italy between 1943 and 1945. Reaching Monte Cassino in 1944, the force suffered 1600 casualties in 12 weeks of bitter fighting. Using NFU pictures, the documentary traces the advance north after Cassino falls, and includes the bloodless capture of Padua and the setting up of the New Zealand Forces Club in the best hotel in Venice. The documentary ends with Kiwi forces facing down Tito's Yugoslav partisans in Trieste.

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The Years Back - 7, The Women's War (Episode Seven)

Television, 1973 (Full Length Episode)

This episode of history series The Years Back focuses on the impact of World War II on Kiwi women. Through archive and interviews it looks at home front life: rationing (as recalled by Dame Pat Evison), fashion (‘Simplicity Styles’), and the arrival of American troops — around 1,400 women would later emigrate to the United States as war brides. It also shows the liberating effect of the war on many women as they took up the jobs left vacant by men serving overseas. Women joined the services too: with more than 8,000 enlisted across the army, navy and air forces.

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The Years Back - 8, Making Do (Episode Eight)

Television, 1973 (Full Length Episode)

This episode of archive-compiled The Years Back series sees presenter Bernard Kearns exploring how New Zealand coped on the home front as World War II expanded into South East Asia and the Pacific. Access to imports was hampered and rationing bit. Fuel and rubber shortages are overcome with novel approaches and farmland becomes the garden for our allies. The episode also examines how industry switched from civilian needs to making war materials. The Home Guard changes from a bit of a laugh to deadly seriousness as the threat grows of invasion by Japan.

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The Years Back - 9, The Unquiet Ocean (Episode Nine)

Television, 1973 (Full Length)

The Years Back was a NFU-made TV documentary series that used archive footage and interviews to survey New Zealand’s 20th Century history. This episode details events in the Pacific during World War II, from Japan’s 1941 attack of Pearl Harbour through to mid-1944. Japan’s aggressive thrust into South East Asia threatened NZ and Australia (“any day now it’ll be us”), and forced the countries into war close to home. Veterans and commanders recall sea battles, rallying of air defences and jungle warfare, from New Caledonia to New Guinea.