Journey of a Story

A short synopsis:

Journey of a Story follows the life of William Brown, a fictional New Zealand serviceman both physically and emotionally damaged by his tour of duty in Europe and time as a Prisoner of War during World War II.  Returning home, William finds a very different world to the one he left behind.  Forced to leave the home he planned to enjoy with his wife Lily and young son James, William struggles to cope until an observant War Pension medical officer convinces William to take up writing.  Fueled with a new passion for life, William finally finds a road to success, in ways he could not possibly imagine.

The story is told to from the elderly William's point of view, as he relays his story to a young theatre director attempting to bring William's life to the stage.

Old William and Laurence

Making the film
Journey of a Story was made possible due to the goodwill of a tremendous number of people over a long period. Shot over eight months of weekends in late 2010, the war-era drama is a considerable achievement for a project of this budget and scope.  The film is the directorial debut for producer/director Jonathon Rayner-Burt.

Crewed entirely by volunteers, JOURNEY OF A STORY was also supported by a large number of groups, societies and businesses in the wider community.  Every participant brought their own reason for helping to the production, from a simple love of the medium, to a passion for recreating a bygone era, to being able to pay tribute and respect to the struggles of the generation of New Zealanders being represented in the story.

Executive Producer Kay Rayner initiated the project in early 2009 after  coming into possession of a number of letters from her late father George Parrish.  George, a member of the 5th Field Ambulance, had his own story to tell.  George was captured in 1941 after the catastrophic attack on the Greek port of Piraeus and the destruction of his ship the Hellas.  After spending a number of years in a prisoner of war labour camp, George escaped and was hidden in the home of an Austrian farming family until the end of the war.

The screenplay was written by Chantal Rayner-Burt, drawing on written and anecdotal accounts of her grandfather.  Although the places, names, and overall narrative is fictional, the actions played out until the return home are virtually verbatim.

Shooting began in April 2010 with a four day block over Easter.  Ignoring the cautions of shooting a low budget feature with a limited number of locations, the shoot for JOURNEY OF A STORY stretched over the wider Auckland area.  The heritage-home rich area of Helensville hosted about a quarter of the shoot: from a number of private homes to the Helensville Pioneer Museum.  Pukekohe, across the other side of Auckland, was the location for the theatre, the fields of Austria, and the ‘local’ RSA.

Production designer Sean J G Hurst faced the considerable task of recreating the physical environment of a past time.  While a considerable amount of wardrobe was on loan from a local theatrical society, the balance were found or borrowed from other sources by Kay Rayner.  Numerous props and set pieces- including effectively the entire set design for a stage production – had to be created.

Production drew to a close in November 2010 after a 32 day shoot.


Historical background

George Parrish

Journey of a story is based in part on real-life events, making it an intensely personal film for the filmmakers. The parts of the film set in Greece and Austria from 1941-1945 are drawn directly from the account of Pvt George Parrish, 5th Field Ambulance.

The ship Aquitania, Wellington, [ca 1940]
Reference Number: PAColl-5927-35

The ship `Aquitania', also known as the `Ship Beautiful', as a troopship circa 1940. Shown here in Wellington.

George left his wife Nellie and son Tony in August 1940. After basic training in Egypt with the Second Echelon, George took part in the Greek campaign. Hardly a bright spot in the New Zealand's war effort, ANZAC forces took a pounding defending Greece and made an early retreat.

Helen and Tony
Wife Nellie (Helen) and young Tony

The luxury liner Hellas was bombed and sunk in the Piraeus harbour on April 24, 1941 while evacuating Allied wounded and civilians. George was captured trying to meet the evacuating troop ships a few days later on the west coast of Greece; he spent the rest of the war in a German labour camp in Austria.

Stalag 18A
The boys in the labour camp - George is front middle.

Personal account
"I was in the 5th Field Ambulance and during the retreat from Mount Olympus our truck got left behind after being bombed and machine-gunned by Stuka dive bombers. We were unable, because of this continuous machine-gunning and bombing, to catch up with the convoy and finished up in a camp near Athens.

"The next day, the 24th April, we were taken to the Piraeus Harbour and boarded the Hellas. After the five bombing, with the boat on fire, I was forced to jump, we were picked up by a life-boat, which took ashore where we were picked up by ambulance and spent the night in a hospital in Athens. The next day, Anzac Day, we were moved to a nearby camp where we spent the day.

Pvt Parrish
George in uniform

"The following day a convoy started out for the south of Greece. During the trip we were continually bombed and machine-gunned so seven of use decided to walk around the coast to the next village. Here we managed to persuade some Greeks to sail us across the harbour to a troop-ship on the other side.

"We set sail at 11pm and at 2am, when we arrived, we found the ship had already left. The next morning, 28th April, we were told to parade in the street where an officer informed us we were now prisoners of war. I spent some time in the Corinth prisoner camp and was later transferred to the POW camp at Salonika. From here I was transferred to the POW camp at Marburg.

"Later I worked on a farm in central Austria near Graz. When the war ended we were transported to Italy, first Rome and then Naples, where we left by plane for England. After spending some time in England we left from Southhampton on the Andes for New Zealand and home, arriving in Lyttleton on the 25th October 1945."

-Pvt. George Parrish



From left to right: Africa Star, 1939-45 Star, NZ War Service Medal 1939-45, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-45



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