War Stories Our Mothers Never Told Us

  • 1995
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

This uncluttered oral history speaks well for New Zealand filmmaker Gaylene Preston (RUBY & RATA) and her background in psychiatry and drama therapy. Aided by Judith Fyfe, a prominent interviewer and commentator, Preston coaxes seven New Zealand women to recount their side of WWII. The fiancee of a young RAF pilot, Pamela Quill gained special permission...read more

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This uncluttered oral history speaks well for New Zealand filmmaker Gaylene Preston (RUBY & RATA) and her background in psychiatry and drama therapy. Aided by Judith Fyfe, a prominent interviewer and commentator, Preston coaxes seven New Zealand women to recount their side of WWII.

The fiancee of a young RAF pilot, Pamela Quill gained special permission to travel to England, and witnessed first-hand the "Battle for Britain" (not the Battle of Britain, she emphasizes). She and Paul were duly married, but approximately a year later he went missing in action. After the War,

Pamela and her daughter went back to New Zealand, still hoping Paul survived, somewhere. Not until 1955 did she locate his grave.

Flo Small stayed in New Zealand throughout the War. She married Warren, a US Marine, despite hateful pronouncements by other members of her working-class community that "All Americans got nigger blood in them." Warren was killed in the fighting, leaving Flo pregnant, ostracized, and supported

mainly by her mother's love.

Tui Preston was forced by pregnancy to marry her somewhat remote boyfriend Ed, who then joined football-club buddies in enlisting. Ed was taken prisoner and held in an Italian POW camp for years, while Tui had an extra-marital affair with a dashing co-worker. When Ed came home at last, Tui ended

the affair, staying in the marriage for her small son's sake. She spent much of her life coming to terms with a husband now nearly a complete stranger.

Jean Andrews was warned "All Americans are criminals," but as a provincial village girl from the Maori Ngati Raukawa/Te Atiawa tribe, she went out of her way to make the foreign troops feel welcome, especially the ones with darker skins--the American blacks, Hispanics, Indians, all outcasts in

their own army. Jean describes ministering to the fatigued, wounded, and dying. For her services she was one of a handful of women worldwide in WWII to be declared an honorary US Marine.

Neva Clarke McKenna tells a far-reaching account of romance and grievous heartbreak. She was among the first 20 New Zealand Army servicewomen sent overseas. Postings to Italy and North Africa made her one of the few females among detachments of lonely, homesick men, and she got engaged twice; both

men perished before a wedding could take place. She calmly relates her abduction and rape by two Palestinians in the desert. Finally she returned to New Zealand, to neighbors who had no idea of what she had been through.

Rita Graham married a conscientious objector, Alan, who was jailed as a "defaulter" soon after the birth of their second child. His former employees set aside a private fund for the family. Then, with Rita away visiting Alan, their baby died in an accident. Alan later joined a hunger strike in

prison and was unable even to write to Rita, an ordeal she found nearly intolerable. Later, she reconciled herself to living by her husband's noble principles, despite the cost.

Mabel Waititi's husband fought in an all-Maori battalion. Like many wartime women she took traditional male jobs--mainly bus driving and deliveries. She didn't see her husband for three years, and describes the troops' ceremonial homecoming.

Each of these narratives, given lavish dramatic treatment, would have stood solidly on their own as features; yet they retain their power in an interview/monologue format. There's a smattering of contemporary propaganda newsreels, with the cheery (male) announcer lauding the brave boys going off

to war, ironically counterpointed with the somber, wizened witnesses, filmed on 35mm against a black background by notable New Zealand cinematographer Alun Bollinger (HEAVENLY CREATURES). The approach isn't especially innovative, nor is it as clinical as a "talking head" feature might otherwise

seem. The daughter of one of the interviewees, Preston made WAR STORIES to shed light on the secrets, helplessness, domestic anguish, and women's issues left out of popular sagas of island skirmishes and military strategies. The modern viewer is struck not only by the anti-American prejudice that

festered in pockets of the antipodes, but in the different values of the era--Pamela rules out any suggestion that she could have had premarital sex with her beloved, while both Tui and Rita stand by their wedding vows--in ways that audiences might find inconceivable today. (Adult situations.)

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  • Released: 1995
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: This uncluttered oral history speaks well for New Zealand filmmaker Gaylene Preston (RUBY & RATA) and her background in psychiatry and drama therapy. Aided by Judith Fyfe, a prominent interviewer and commentator, Preston coaxes seven New Zealand women to r… (more)

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