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Personal war stories of NZers told in new documentary series

Media release

31 July 2014

Personal war stories of New Zealanders told in new documentary series

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage has collaborated with the Alexander Turnbull Library and Archives New Zealand on a new TV3 series of documentaries focused on the First World War.

Great War Stories is a series of seven short documentaries that will broadcast for one week from Monday 4 August, the date that marks the centenary of the beginning of World War One. Narrated by Hilary Barry, they will air during the 3 News 6pm evening bulletin.

The series, produced by AC Productions and funded by NZ On Air, features a rich array of archival material. Each instalment explores the personal experiences of New Zealanders, and their involvement in the First World War.

Jock Phillips, historian at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, helped develop the stories.

“It was very much a joint effort to put these stories on the screen. Ministry historians worked on the selection of individual stories and provided background research. The material provided by Archives New Zealand and the Alexander Turnbull Library was comprehensive and we’re very pleased with the end result — it’s a powerful portrayal of the First World War,” says Phillips.

The stories navigate the spectrum of the war experience; from the courageous to the tragic, the everyday to the spectacular.

There is a fascinating range of characters featured; fighter pilot Keith Caldwell becomes an unassuming hero; Lady Liverpool mobilises women across New Zealand to get knitting; soldier Leonard Hart writes a letter home to his parents detailing the horrors of Passchendaele; conscientious objector Mark Briggs suffers a different fate on the front line along with 14 others; Rikihana Carkeek of Otaki iwi Ngati Raukawa witnesses his comrades falling next to him in Gallipoli; Henry Pickerill and Harold Gillies are two New Zealand surgeons who pioneer cosmetic surgery procedures for use on injured soldiers; and the tale of Bess, the famous war horse, one of 10,000 New Zealand horses in the First World War.

These narratives are brought to life with photos, memorabilia, film, posters and music scores.

Chris Szekely, Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library says, “We were delighted to be involved. The Turnbull holds a tremendous wealth of archival material relating to World War One, much of it donated by individuals and families. The project was a great way to honour this legacy”.

Following broadcast, each of the series will be available online at the NZ History website:

“The great thing about this collaboration is that the Turnbull Library is full of personal records and Archives New Zealand is the National Archive and preserves records of government. Together they give a very balanced view of what happened; the public record and personal recollection. Broadcast on 3 News enables all New Zealanders to discover previously unseen material,” says Alan Ferris, Manager Archives Online.

Other footage comes from the NZ Film Archive, the Australian War Memorial and a German archive.

Great War Stories begins on Monday 4 August during the 3 News 6pm evening bulletin.

Further information on New Zealand’s WW100 First World War centenary programme is available at:


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