PasschendaeleOn July 31st, 1917, the Allied Forces launched a ten day artillery bombardment using 3,000 heavy guns and 4,250,000 shells. The Battle for Passchendaele had begun. It was fought on blood-soaked, battle scarred ground and lasted almost four months, claiming a million casualties on both sides. The soldiers fought in cold and drizzle on terrain so ghastly that, as one soldier said: “If hell is anything like Passchendaele, I would not wish it on my worst enemy.” Over the years, Passchendaele has become synonymous with the horrors of the First World War.
All elements of the British military machine were thrown into the effort – from the home regiments to the Kiwis, to the Indians, to the Aussies. Finally, the high command turned to their elite corps -- Canadian Expeditionary Force. Canadian soldiers, entered the fray, relieving the exhausted armies. On the 6th of November, they took the village of Passchendaele. On the 10th of November they reached Hill 52 where they dug in, bringing victory to the Allied cause.
It was an extraordinary achievement for a young nation – only 50 years since Confederation with a population of less than 8 million souls. Canada sent over 600,000 men to the crucible of Western Front and their sacrifice forged the definition of what it meant to be Canadian. Proud. Strong. Resolute. In fact, of all the Allied armies, the Canadians were most feared by the enemy, so feared the Germans coined the word ‘storm-trooper’ to refer to us. The British Prime Minister Lloyd George summed it up when he said, “Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst.”
Among the most feared was the 10th Canadian Infantry Battalion, known as ‘The Fighting Tenth’ which was based in Calgary and drew its soldiers from all walks of Albertan life. As their commander, General Ormond, said, “There may have been equally good fighting units but, there was never one any better.”
Canada’s victory at Passchendaele is an astounding story of determination, commitment and triumph. Sadly with each passing year, the story of our nation’s valour is fading. With the film of Passchendaele we are determined to rectify this.
Cinema is the most powerful and deeply penetrating of our modern media. There is little doubt that the 1981 Peter Weir WW1 film Gallipoli was a powerful force in shaping Australia’s sense of itself. In fact, most combatant nations have extensive film libraries chronicling their military histories. Only in Canada is our military record strangely absent. It is our mission to correct this. We are convinced that Passchendaele will re-ignite interest and justifiable pride in our nation’s distinguished military history and highlight the exceptional role our nation played in the War to End All Wars.
As a proud Canadian, it has long been my ambition to bring this powerful period in our nation’s history to the world. It started many years ago, listening to stories my Grandfather told of his involvement in the conflict. He was a proud man and a proud member of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The war was the formative event in his life and he believed, as do we, that our understanding of what it means to be Canadian was forged in the crucible of the Western Front. --Paul Gross, Writer, Producer, Director, ActorPasschendaele - starring Paul Gross