For King and Empire - Six Part Series (2001)
For King and Empire is a documentary series that tells the stories of ordinary Canadians who fought extraordinary battles during the First World War.
Six episodes represent a turning point in the Great War: Ypres, the Somme, Vimy, Passchendaele, the Battles of the Last Hundred Days, and the Legacy of the War. By depicting walking tours of each battleground, For King and Empire explores the significance of the battle and what was at risk, the initial strategies and what actually transpired.
But more than detailing a particular conflict, with Norm Christie as the host and military historian that guides viewers, For King and Empire explores the experiences and emotions of the Canadian soldiers, their remarkable endurance and their supreme sacrifices.
Episode One – Baptism of Fire: The Canadians at Ypres – 1915
Fresh off the boat, Canada's amateur soldiers march straight to the "most dangerous sector on the Western Front," the bulge in the Allied line around the Belgian city of Ypres, the bulge known as "the Ypres Salient". Within days, the untried Canadians confront Germany's new secret weapon and the first mass poisoned gas attack in history. Fought to a bloody finish, the battle of Ypres 1915 signals the beginning of "total war."
Episode Two – Slaughter and Sacrifice: The Canadians on the Somme – 1916
On July 1, 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme, 60,000 British soldiers fall. But the British continue their offensive. And, finally, the High Command orders in the Canadians. Supported by the first tanks ever used in battle, Canadian troops assault German fortifications at Courcelette and then at Regina trench. They slog to victory and suffer 25,000 casualties on the battlefield known as "the graveyard of armies."
Episode Three – Storming the Ridge: The Canadians at Vimy – 1917
After a winter spent fighting the Germans along the deadly "crater line", the 100,000 men of the Canadian Corps assault Germany's impregnable fortress – Vimy Ridge – on Easter Monday, April 1917. It is one of the most brilliantly planned attacks of the war. Sweeping to victory, and consolidating their gains, the Canadians establish their reputation as elite troops, but at a cost – 21,000 dead, wounded and missing.
Episode Four – Slaughter in the Mud: The Canadians at Passchendaele – 1917
In mid-summer 1917, the British Commander Sir Douglas Haig launches an offensive from the city of Ypres. Three months later, a quarter of a million of his soldiers have fallen, killed, wounded or drowned in mud. To turn his failed offensive into a – victory – Haig orders the Canadians to take the ridge and village of Passchendaele. In three weeks of vicious fighting in mud, sleet, and snow, the Canadians take Passchendaele, making it a "great victory." For each two metres gained, one man goes down.
Episode Five – Masters of War
In March 1918, the Germans launch a great offensive in France and Belgium, sweeping aside British and French armies and almost winning the war. On August 8, at Amiens in France, the Allies strike back, and the attack, spearheaded by the Canadian Corps becomes the "greatest British victory yet", reversing the tide of war. In the next 100 days, the Canadian Corps wins seemingly impossible victories at Arras, at the Canal du Nord, and at Cambrai, driving the Germans out of France. On the last day of the war, the Canadian Corps liberates the Belgian city of Mons, where British and German troops first fought in 1914. By 1918, the Canadians have become the "spearhead of victory" – masters of war.
Episode Six – Shadows of the Great War
When the war ends on November 11, 1918, the world rejoices, but 10 million soldiers are dead and 20 million maimed. Along the old Western Front, during the 1920s men turn to the gruesome task of exhuming and reburying hundreds of thousands of bodies. While Canadians in the 1920s and 30s argue over the cost of building memorials to their soldiers, one veteran, in Germany, embittered by defeat, creates a new mass movement. His name is Adolf Hitler – and his party, the Nazi Party. In 1939, Canada is once again at war and many of the men who fought the first war live to see their sons die in the second. In our travels along the Western Front, we will have voyaged into the past, discovering what remains of those men – who fought "For King and Empire."