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The Story Of A NZ War Hero On Maori Television


Born To Fly: The Story Of A NZ War Hero On Maori Television

The unforgettable story of a New Zealand war hero – one of the first Maori pilots of the NZRAF and a leader of air crews in the skies over Europe – is re-enacted in an exclusive documentary screening as part of Maori Television’s all-day ANZAC broadcast on Friday April 25 at 9.00 AM.

TURANGAARERE relives the rise to leadership of Flying Officer Porokoru Patapu (John) Pohe. Pohe served 22 missions in his first tour of duty when the average life expectancy was just six; flew bombers through the equivalent of hell without receiving a scratch; landed wounded aircraft without wheels; and could navigate by the stars.

His feats earned him the nickname ‘Lucky Johnny’ and the confidence of RAF Bomber Command who assigned him to train allied air crews. On September 22 1943, Pohe flew a fateful mission that led to his German capture and contribution to one of the most famous events of the Second World War – The Great Escape. Yet he is better known in the countries he served than in his homeland.

On March 31 1944, Pohe’s extraordinary life came to a tragic and dramatic end when he was placed in front of a German firing squad. Pohe removed his blindfold and faced his executioners in the eye. TURANGAARERE is named in recognition of the whanau homestead where an ancestor sheltered beneath a waterfall and likened the cascade to birds flying over him. Indeed, Pohe is a son of Ngati Rangi, the people of the sky. He was, undeniably, born to fly.

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“This is a story John Pohe’s family had obviously treasured and had been careful about how it should be told,” says director Julian Arahanga. “We were honoured they agreed to share it with us and finally bring public awareness to his incredible life.”

More than 100 crew, actors and musicians supported Arahanga to bring this story to the screen with the qualities and expertise of film drama. Visual effects, CGI graphics, drama re-enactments and an original score are supported by extensive research to raise the bar of television documentary making in New Zealand.

The one-hour documentary spans three continents, returning to the site of the Great Escape in Poland and interviewing whanau, historians, experts and survivors as well as tracing the last surviving member of John Pohe’s crew, Tom Thomson in Canada. “We were astounded when we found Mr Thomson,” says Arahanga. “He is a warm, inspiring gentleman who was with John Pohe when they were shot down and is the only man today who holds the key to what really happened that night.”

Funded by NZ On Air and Te Mangai Paho, TURANGAARERE is narrated in English to ensure this uplifting tale can be shared and celebrated by every New Zealander. The significance of the story also received the support of the New Zealand Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade who liaised with Polish and British authorities as well as on New Zealand location filming. Yet another unique feature is that actors who played the roles of Pohe’s whanau were his descendants.

“It became very real for us because we were representing our nanny, our koro, our mums and dads who have passed away,” said nephew Wilson Smith who plays the role of Pohe’s father. “The scene at the train station when Johnny leaves for war felt like we were actually back in the 1940s. We relived their grief and emotion all over again. We were even wearing their clothes.”

TURANGAARERE screens as part of Maori Television’s all-day broadcast, A TATOU TAONGA: ANZAC DAY 2008, on Friday April 25 at 9.00 AM and will also be streamed on the website Text ANZAC to 3553 (text messages cost 20c each) to book your 5.45 AM wake-up text on ANZAC Day.


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