Great War Stories

On this 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, we are delighted to have played a major role in a series of ‘Great War Stories’.  Each of the seven stories deals with a particular person (or in one case a horse!) and tells of how the war impacted on that individual. A different story will be played in the middle of TV3 News every night for the next seven days.

It has been a long and fascinating journey to this moment. It began about two years ago, when we were preparing Te Ara’s story on the First World War. That war was such a huge, cataclysmic event that affected everybody in this society, so we were looking for a way to make it real at a human level. We came up with the idea of telling the story through its effect upon one individual; so we prepared a short film on George Bollinger. Bollinger was a fairly typical Kiwi bloke in 1914 – a keen rugby player, a strong believer in the British Empire, a member of the local territorial force. When war broke out he volunteered quickly and, being strong (actually at 6 foot 4 inches (1.9 metres), he was the tallest man in the ‘main body’ of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force), he was accepted. He sailed off with the Expeditionary Force in October 1914, then on to Egypt and finally to Gallipoli.

So far so good, but he was different from his peers in one respect – his father was a German, who had migrated to Taranaki in the 1870s. Some people in New Zealand society had no time for people ‘of German birth’, so before long George Bollinger became the butt of rumours and letters to ministers and MPs. How this impacted on George was the essence of the film.

George Bollinger, 1916 (Ref: PAColl-0049-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

George Bollinger, 1916 (Ref: PAColl-0049-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

We prepared a script and put it together in-house, using images from the Alexander Turnbull Library. The formula seemed to work, so the idea emerged that perhaps we should do a series of these war stories for the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

I went and visited Chris Szekely, chief librarian at the Alexander Turnbull Library, and asked if the Turnbull would like to join us in this project. He accepted with alacrity. So did Alan Ferris at Archives New Zealand when I asked him the same question. Before long we had an exciting cross-agency project underway. We (the Ministry for Culture and Heritage), Turnbull and Archives each brainstormed possible stories. Then we came together and chose the 25 best ones.

At that point a number of ministry historians – Gareth Phipps, Matthew Tonks, Martha van Drunen, Imelda Bargas and myself – prepared research files on each story. Then these were handed to the noted playwright Dave Armstrong, who had written short scripts for our ‘Roadside Stories‘, audio guides to places around New Zealand, that we made in 2011. He once again prepared scripts for these short films. Our intention at that point was to find actors and put together the stories ourselves for our websites.

Then I received a phone call one day from Anna Cottrell. She explained that she had been proposing to TV3 a series of short stories about different individuals involved in the Great War. She was about to seek support from NZ on Air, but had just found out that we had a similar idea. We met, and very quickly an obvious win-win solution surfaced: let’s work together! The ministry would do the research and checking, Turnbull and Archives would search out the relevant images, documents and film clips, and Anna Cottrell and her team would put together the short films to be shown on TV3. NZ on Air were impressed and so the venture took off.

It has been a wonderful ride. Together with Anna and her team, we chose the first seven stories to be produced and broadcast. We looked for a range that would tell of the experiences of men and women, Māori and Pākehā, battle heroes and opponents of the war, the home front and the muddy trenches. Then Anna, using the research and the scripts, set about filming the stories. She has done a magnificent job.

The first seven Great War Stories are:

  • Lady Liverpool – The men go forth to battle, the women wait – and knit: Monday 4 August
  • Keith Caldwell – Grid’s great escape: Tuesday 5 August
  • Rikihana Carkeek – A warrior of Tūmatauenga: Wednesday 6 August
  • Leonard Hart – New Zealand’s darkest day: Thursday 7 August
  • Henry Pickerill and Harold Gillies – The changing faces of war: Friday 8 August
  • Mark Briggs – The courage of conviction: Saturday 9 August
  • Bess – Lucky horse: Sunday 10 August.

After screening, the stories will also be available, with supporting information, on

We hope you take time to watch the stories and that you learn from them something about the extraordinary impact the Great War inflicted upon the peoples of this country.

One comment added so far

  1. Comment made by Spencer || August 5th, 2014

    I saw the first clip on the News last night and it was excellent. Lady Liverpool was a real revelation and her leadership obviously made a huge difference to those who found themselves at the various campaigns. Well done to the team who put them together. I look forward to tonight’s installment.

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