A poster from 1916 in red, blue and white writing about the French fighting films

Sights and Sounds of the First World War at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

2 Oct 2014
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision will be joining many of New Zealand’s other heritage organisations in reflecting on, and remembering, the First World War

By James Taylor

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s collection of First World War material is unique as we hold a broad range of audiovisual material that relates to New Zealand’s, and New Zealanders’, involvement in the war. Our film collection includes over 60 items shot between 1914 and 1918 – among these are Gaumont, Topical Film Co. and Pathé newsreels, “official” New Zealand, British and French Government films, and local topicals. These are some of the most valuable titles in our collection as they show a range of events, people and places, and despite many being mere fragments they vividly capture scenes from both the home and battle fronts, soldiers, politicians and the civilian population. There are also a large number of amateur and home movies, which record Anzac Day memorial services and parades from the early 1920s to the present day. Alongside these are many more recent feature and short films, television programmes and documentaries about the war. Our sound collection dates back to the early years of public radio broadcasting in the 1930s, so doesn’t include any material from the war itself. However, it does feature many first-hand accounts from men who served in Samoa, Gallipoli and the Somme; nurses who tended soldiers; insights about life in the home front; and waiata, music and songs from the war years, all of which enriches and enhances our understanding of this significant, and traumatic, period in New Zealand’s history.

Hero image: A 1916 poster. Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Documentation Collection.

A soldier in uniform is saluting.

A 1916 home movie by Rudall Hayward, showing a soldier in army uniform.

We have a number of projects underway at the moment, the fruits of which will be seen in the coming months. Amongst them are three major projects which have been generously funded by the Lottery Grants Board, and all of which aim to help ensure New Zealanders access to this rich material. The first of these is a programme of acquisition, preservation and digitisation currently being undertaken to locate and retrieve film and sound material relating to New Zealand’s participation in the war from archives in Australia, France and the United Kingdom. Because of various historical circumstances, including the New Zealand Government’s contracting of Pathé cameramen during the war, nearly 100 such films are located in overseas institutions. We are currently negotiating the repatriation of digital files of relevant material, which will then be catalogued in detail by staff working with military historians.

An explosion on the far side of a field is blowing debris into the air.

Topical Budget 244-1 Anzac Day (1916)

This newly acquired material will be available in a number of ways. As well as the usual means of viewing at our Wellington and Auckland branches and medianet sites, we are currently developing a joint Anzac website with the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. This will showcase approximately 100 audiovisual objects in a series of thematic sections, featuring contextual information alongside collection items such as film and sound clips, still images, glass slides and sheet music. The site, Anzac AV: Sights & Sounds of the First World War, will launch in April 2015

Our other major project is a 60-minute screening programme, Resilience: New Zealand’s Experience of the First World War, features some of the newly acquired material alongside items already in our collection. Local musician Bill Hinkman has been commissioned to arrange a soundtrack to accompany the silent films. The programme will be available for loan free of charge to schools, local heritage institutions and groups around the country (though we may ask loanees to cover the cost of postage). Resilience will also be available for loan from April 2015; details about this will be available on the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision website closer to the time.

While these three projects are the basis of most of our World War One related work here, there are a few other ways we’ll be sharing our collections. Our medianet sites are having new war playlists uploaded to them. These will be unique for each site and will feature some newly acquired material as well as locally relevant films. Our Wellington cinema will also occasionally screen war films: this week we’re running a short series of German, French and British films. And finally, both our film and sound Client Services teams remain busy supplying professional filmmakers, television producers and museums around New Zealand and the world with items from our collection. These include the recent Great War Stories series which screened on TV3, Jim Sullivan’s Radio New Zealand War Reports series,  outdoor projections at the Auckland Museum this past Anzac weekend and later this month in Wellington, fantastic museum exhibitions at Toitū Otago Settlers Museum and the Messines Museum and Cultural Centre, and footage shown at half time of last year’s All Blacks vs France rugby test in Paris. We’re delighted to be able to facilitate this access to our collections; alongside our own work, this all combines to help Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision in our core mission, to collect, protect and connect this hugely significant moving image material with the widest possible audience.

If you’re interested in our First World War film and sound collections, or would like to learn more about the upcoming website or loan programme please do get in touch.

A large crowd stand in front of a building covered in Union Jack flags and a sign that reads ' Peace. All honour to our Fernleaf lads'

Peace Day Procession (1919)