Episode Eight: The Price of Empire 1897-1918
This episode tells the story of New Zealand's first active involvement in the wider world, from Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee to the armistice ending the First World War. Our dreams of imperial glory would lead to terrible casualties, as the country paid "the price of empire."
At the end of the 19th Century Prime Minister Richard Seddon celebrated that New Zealand was part of the British Empire. New Zealanders saw themselves as being like the British but better, without the class conflicts and industrial slums of England.
This imperial fervour took us into our first overseas war, fighting the Boers in South Africa. Our soldiers galloped across the veldt and return victorious, with only a few men killed.
We then follow the successful 1905 All Black Tour of Britain, led by Boer War veteran Dave Gallaher, and show how rugby confirmed the view that we were "better Britons."
Soon the sports field would be exchanged for the battlefield as the First World War inexorably approached. We follow two families, the Knights and Harts, whose sons go off to the war.
The New Zealand casualty rate in World War One was horrendous and we see one of the Kiwi heroes of the campaign, Colonel William Malone killed at Gallipoli. In Belgium on 12 October 1917, the most catastrophic day in modern New Zealand history took place, when 840 Kiwi soldiers were killed at the battle of Passchendaele.
At home the women anxiously supported the war effort by working in factories and sending parcels to the soldiers. Some went overseas as nurses. One, Ettie Rout, tried to prevent the VD epidemic amongst the soldiers and was widely condemned for her troubles.
Not everyone supported the war. We watch the Labour leaders going to prison for opposing conscription and deserters hiding out on the West Coast. We see Te Puea Herangi leading her Waikato people in a campaign against Maori conscription.
After four years of struggle, our side was eventually victorious. But for a small country the human cost was devastating. Every year those who died are remembered on Anzac Day, the anniversary of our troops landing at Gallipoli in 1915.