One hundred years ago, on July 1st, 1916, the Newfoundland Regiment took part in a massive First World War offensive on the Somme, led by the British to liberate France and Belgium from the claws of the Germans. Some 800 soldiers from the Regiment went over the top that morning, near Beaumont-Hamel in France. The following day only 68 were able to answer roll call. Because of that battle, nothing about Newfoundland would ever be the same.
To commemorate the one hundredth anniversary, Brian McKenna’s latest feature documentary film Newfoundland at Armageddon tells the story of this epic tragedy. Using a technique he perfected during his 2007 project, The Great War, 21 descendants of soldiers who fought with the Newfoundland Regiment were recruited. They were offered a unique opportunity to relive the experience of their ancestors in trenches built specifically for this event, on a National Defence of Canada rifle range near St. John’s in Newfoundland. Four of the descendants travelled to Europe to follow in their ancestors’ footsteps from landing in England, training in Scotland and finally marching on the field of Beaumont Hamel.
Through descendants’ eyes, and with the guidance of regimental records, historians’ research, soldiers’ files, diaries, letters and family stories, the documentary recreates the battle and its aftermath in Newfoundland. With the help of dramatization, we go behind the scenes of history and visit General Haig as he’s planning the battle with his generals; we’re also confronted to the hardships of a family who sent a son to war.