Chapter One Family Roots, Empty Graves Chapter Two Into the Line of Fire Chapter Three Truth Buried & Reburied Chapter Four Dead Voice from the Ground Chapter Five The Final Journey About

One hundred years after the battle at Passchendaele, renowned actors Dean O’Gorman (New Zealand) and Robert “RH” Thomson (Canada), return to the once deadly region in search of family who died on the battlefields.

Learn the story of two nations, as we remember the horror of Passchendaele, 100 years later.

Canadian Forces began their carefully planned advance on October 26th, 1917 and two weeks later, they successfully captured the ruined town of Passchendaele. There were 15,654 Canadian casualties, and thousands killed. Robert’s great uncle, George Stratford, was among the fallen.

Chapter One

Family Roots, Empty Graves

The First World War (1914 – 1918) was the bloodiest conflict in New Zealand and Canadian history. As British dominions, both countries found themselves automatically involved, even though neither country ever issued a declaration of war on Germany.

In total, 424,000 Canadians and 100,444 New Zealanders served in the British Forces. The Stratford and O’Gorman families each sent five sons to the frontlines. Of the Stratford sons, one died in France and two died from gas, whilst George Stratford was killed and buried in the fields of Passchendaele. Similarly, two O’Gorman sons died on the battlefields and are buried in unmarked graves near Passchendaele.

Canada's Story

Canadian actor Robert “RH” Thomson, introduces the Stratford sons, four of whom fought in WW1. His great uncle, George Stratford, was killed at Passchendaele. We begin Robert’s quest to find where George’s remains lie in Belgium.
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New Zealand's Story

New Zealand actor and photographer Dean O’Gorman finds traces of five O’Gorman brothers from the New Zealand capital, and begins to uncover the O’Gorman’s family journey to Passchendaele.
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Chapter Two

Into the Line of Fire

The northern summer of 1917 was relatively kind to the New Zealand and Canadian troops, with victories in other parts of Belgium (Messines) and France (Arras and Vimy Ridge).

These victories, however great, were still won with high casualties and under atrocious conditions. The O’Gorman brothers had arrived in 1916 and had fought in some of these battles, before the fight in Passchendaele. The Stratford boys had a shared experience in some of their earlier battles of Ypres, Belgium. Upon seeing the conditions and destruction of war, these men realized they may never return home.

How did this experience, and killing for the first time, affect these young men?

Canada's Story

Robert travels to Ypres, Belgium to retrace George’s journey. He finds George’s name listed at the In Flanders Fields Museum and at Menin Gate. Robert learns that by the time George would have arrived to fight, most of the town was in ruins.
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New Zealand's Story

In Belgium Dean tries to imagine the horrors of the front line. He explores trenches, mine craters and visits the site of the O’Gorman boys' first gruesome campaign win.
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Chapter Three

Truth Buried & Reburied

In the months prior to October 1917, most of Belgium had experienced the “heaviest rains in 30 years”. This would make conditions even more difficult for the cold and now wet soldiers on the battlefields given that firm ground was non-existent. Relentless attacks and high explosive shelling took their toll on the soldiers and many of the missing and severely wounded were lost and buried in the mud.

A century later, both Dean and Robert visit monuments and museums, only to discover that the reality of war is best uncovered by dirty hands.

Canada's Story

Robert wants to understand what George went through – to “get into his boots.” He travels to Hill 62 at Sanctuary Wood, Belgium, to find the spot where George fought and was wounded.
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New Zealand's Story

Dean steps onto the new Allied front line of October 1917. At Gravenstafel Spur the ‘iron harvest’ uncovers a hidden truth, but Thomas O’Gorman’s grave is just out of reach.
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Chapter Four

Dead Voices from the Ground

The ruined landscape that greeted the soldiers in 1917, is now pristine and well kept. Early advances on the nearby land in October 1917, yielded a false confidence that led commanders to continue their push forward, despite the heavy rains and human loss.

The New Zealand Division were thrown hard into the first advance, on October 12th, while Canadians awaited their fate behind the lines.

Canada's Story

Robert visits Tyne Cot, the largest British/Commonwealth cemetery in the world. It’s white pristine crosses and manicured lawns honour the glorious dead – too clean for the horror that lies beneath. Robert also visits the Vladslo German War Cemetery, where he sees the famous statues of the “Grieving Parents”. It is a smaller cemetery than that of Tyne Cot, yet it holds more than double the amount of dead soldiers.
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New Zealand's Story

Dean walks the sacred ground of Flanders’ fields and tries to comprehend the events of October 12th, 1917 -- the most disastrous day in New Zealand history.
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Chapter Five

The Final Journey

Canadian troops arrived in mid-October, 1917 to re-gain the advance that had killed so many New Zealanders. Canadian Commander Sir Arthur Currie, carefully prepared his plan of attack and worked to rebuild the shattered roads, tramlines and gun pits, prior to the battle.

The Canadian offensive began on October 26, and the Passchendaele ridge was won exactly two weeks later – but at a great cost of more than 16,000 Canadian casualties. The ground that was won, was given up again only four months later.

Canada's Story

Progressing from an old pencil map, drawn by a soldier friend to illustrate where George was buried, Robert uses a German map from the time, to find exact coordinates on a modern map. Eventually, Robert discovers the present burial spot, in a farmer's field near a busy highway.
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New Zealand's Story

The flame burns still at Passchendaele Church, the final objective of the disastrous campaign. Dean’s DNA test results are an emotional reminder of the national trauma of the war.
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