Newfoundland at Armageddon documentary 'not an easy story to tell'

On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's battle at Beaumont-Hamel, a new documentary debuts on CBC TV.
Newfoundland at Armageddon airs on CBC TV June 30, at 8:30 p.m. NT. (Gala Film/Morag Loves Company)

On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's battle at Beaumont-Hamel, a new documentary will debut on CBC TV June 30.

Newfoundland at Armageddon tells the story of the deadliest day in this province's history — July 1, 1916 — when hundreds of soldiers perished on the French battlefield, mowed down by enemy fire. 

"It's not an easy story to tell,"  filmmaker Barbara Doran said. "It was a long journey, a difficult journey,"

Producers recruited 21 descendants of Royal Newfoundland Regiment soldiers to play their historical counterparts, and recreated a 22-minute battle for the documentary. 

"The descendants were brought really close to the story. They were brought close to the experience. We put them out there. We dug the trenches, they lived as soldiers."

The film was written by award-winning author Michael Crummey and is narrated by well-known musician Alan Doyle.

'Women made a huge sacrifice'

Doran said the documentary also looks at the role women played during the Great War. 

"I think we often leave women out of the story of war and women made a huge sacrifice as well. Women on the homefront had to take over a lot of the work the men normally do — the fishing, the hauling wood, the preparing for the winter and all that."

The film also shows the Women's Patriotic Association and its fundraising efforts, that according to Doran, brought in a lot of money, the equivalent of more than $20 million in today's dollars.

21 descendants of Newfoundland soldiers played their historical counterparts in the film. (Gala Film/Morag Loves Company)

The battle's history, which has affected the lives of many people in the province, also had an impact on those who worked creating this film. 

"It touched all of us personally. What you are recording is so much suffering, the loss and the tragedy of it. And you keep asking yourself, 'why did this happen?' It could have been avoided and that's not something you can deal with easily," said Doran.

Newfoundland at Armageddon airs on CBC TV on June 30 at 8:30 p.m., NT.  

with files from Debbie Cooper