NZ war sto­ries go global

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By EMMA WHITTAKER

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.

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‘‘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.

Photo: EMMA WHITTAKER

Hunt­ing his­tory: Tony Robin­son has been gath­er­ing Auck­lan­ders’ war sto­ries for a tele­vi­sion se­ries to be re­leased in 2015.

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