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The third chapter of UNDERTOW - PUBLIC WORKS challenges the way we remember, commemorate

and reconcile ourselves to our war history and reveals the crippling psychological effects of war on soldiers.

Title card for Chapter Three of The Undertow: Public Works by Helen Pearse-Otene, presented by Te Rākau Hua o Te Wao Tapu

1918 and home calls to our boys in No Man’s Land 

- the space in between, where anything is possible - 

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.  

Dumb, black bastards stuck in the mud. 

Theirs’ or someone else’s, it’s all the same.



From the wet and reeking trenches of Passchendaele, the ghosts of home torment our boys on the frontline. The Allied troops have abandoned the Belgian battleground, leaving cousins Hamuera Kenning and Will Meier to rot in the mud with only their memories for company. 


Hamuera, a sapper in the Pioneer Battalion, wrestles with a dark secret he has hidden away in the mud of No Man’s Land while Will, a corporal in the Wellington Mounted Regiment, is looking for any way to get home to Te Miti.


Everywhere, strange birds settle and familiar apparitions rise from the pot holes and craters, reminding Hamuera and Will of the blood in their veins, and the call of their whenua; a lazy boat ride with dear Aunty Bea, an old man - not yet born - excavating his future past, and the other lads in the team, face-down in the mud. Fleur, an iron-willed Belgian nurse, mysteriously appears to reclaim the mud for Belgium and bring the cousins back with her to the hospital.


The boys know they have an impossible decision to make, yet time marches on like the old Grandfather clock in the hall: do they let go and move back into the light before it is too late, or continue digging until they find what is lost in the mud?

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