The stunning and courageous liberation by New Zealand troops of a small French town at the end of WWI is at the heart of the final episode of War News. Correspondents Jack Crawford (Jason Whyte) and Paul Jameson (Richard Dey) are with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade as it attempts to liberate the German-held town of Le Quesnoy using a single ladder.
War News is a fictional WWI current affairs show based on factual events, created by the Gibson Group with NZ On Air’s prestigious Platinum Fund. The series transports viewers to WWI by placing a TV current affairs team at the coalface of the war.
In this episode, which takes place just a week before the war on the Western Front ended, War News joins Kiwi soldiers under fire as they try to capture Le Quesnoy, a town in northern France under German control since the war began in 1914. Its residents have endured insufferable conditions behind almost impregnable walls. The Kiwi troops are determined to find a way in through the walls before they're forced to resort to shelling the town and risk destroying its centuries-old buildings and harming its innocent civilians.
The Le Quesnoy scenes are intensely dramatic as soldiers, armed with a single wooden ladder and filming via helmet-cam, search for a way to get over the town’s walls while under fire from German defenders. Meanwhile, in smuggled footage recorded covertly and at great risk to her life, a woman in Le Quesnoy describes life under the brutal German regime.
Richard Dey, who plays correspondent Paul Jameson, thinks New Zealanders will get a kick out of hearing about Le Quesnoy. “It's a fabulous New Zealand war story, one I wasn’t that familiar with prior to filming. This little town still has streets named after our country due to us helping liberate them!”
Filmed around a dam in Wainuiomata near Wellington, the Le Quesnoy scenes represent another high point in New Zealand’s involvement in WWI.
“It was a classic case of Kiwi ingenuity and pragmatism,” says Dey. “Out of the many horrific battles that took place, this is a story that stands out as a positive.”
“It’s a great story to end on,” agrees War News writer David Brechin-Smith, “A real celebration!”
In the studio, war expert Robyn Michaels (Nathalie Boltt) and anchor Ray Harkness (Mark Mitchinson) look back at the war and highlight the advances made in strategy and tactics, including Germany’s fierce stormtroopers and the German Army's enormous, ultra-long-range Paris Gun.
“So much happened in those four years” says Mitchinson, who plays anchor Ray Harkness. “That crazy madness of trench warfare, the horror of it all, when both sides went, okay, we’ve just massacred a million people fighting over a tiny piece of land. And also the way that the war swung, because in early 1918 it looked like it was all going to be over for the British and the French.”
Producer Gary Scott says the success of the series has been making the facts of the war accessible to new generations in the viewing audience. “We really hope, and believe, that by watching the whole series people will gain a really good picture of why ANZAC and the ‘first war’ are so important to our country. And what the placenames and WW100 commemorations are all about.”
War News. Prime Sunday 20 July 2014