NZ war stories go global
TONY Robinson has a cunning plan to help us learn a little bit more about our war history.
The English historian and comedian is most well known for playing Baldrick in the television series Blackadder.
He was in Auckland this month filming for Tony Robinson’s Tour of Duty.
The 10-part television series looks at the impact of war on New Zealand and Australian communities.
‘‘It’s not just heroic fighters but what was happening on the home front,’’ Robinson says.
‘‘For example, the way that people kicked off and almost went on strike in New Zealand because they weren’t allowed to have any butter because it was going overseas.’’
The series is being produced by the History Channel and will be released next year to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign.
The second part of each episode focuses on a community event where people were invited to bring along their stories and items from the war.
A community day was held at the Auckland War Memorial Museum on April 4.
‘‘What we find is that a city thinks it knows its history, but actually there are an awful lot of stories out there it doesn’t know because they’ve always remained in families,’’ Robinson says.
‘‘What we’re giving people the opportunity to do is tell those stories a little more publicly and then they become session.
‘‘After all, you can learn more from communities than you can from textbooks.’’
Finding out that New Zealand was trying to design its own weapon of mass destruction during World War II ranks as one of Robinsons’ favourite discoveries while filming here.
Project Seal aimed to create a tsunami bomb.
‘‘Basically they would drop thousands of tonnes of explosives into the sea off Japan and create a tsunami, thus taking out all the coastal defences and whatever ships were there,’’ Robinson says.
‘‘To me it’s dead ironic. Nowadays I think of New Zealand as a place which is vehemently anti-nuclear and vehemently anti-weapons of mass destruction.
‘‘To know that you were actually planning one in the second world war doesn’t sit very easily in my view of New Zealand.’’
A vivid story told to Robinson by his father about his grandfather returning from World War I has driven him to continue with uncovering war history.
‘‘[My grandfather] came back to his little tenement house in the east end of London and walked in the door where the parlour fire was blazing.’’
He and his wife removed his uniform item by item and chucked them in the fire.
‘‘They just stood there watching it burn until the whole thing was just a big claggy ball.
‘‘Then my grandpa turned around, went upstairs to bed, and never ever spoke of the war again.
‘‘I’ve told that story many times and so many people have said ‘yes something similar happened in my family’.
‘‘The fact that so many of these stories are hidden, and once the generation have passed they are lost forever, really gives me an incentive to try and find as many as I can before they disappear,’’ he says.
Hunting history: Tony Robinson has been gathering Aucklanders’ war stories for a television series to be released in 2015.