Drama revealing real experiences of British soldiers in the First World War. In August 1914, the Royal Fusiliers reach the town of Mons in Belgium.
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This programme contains some violent scenes and contains strong language
This is it, boys!
We're in the war now!
Get down, Sid!
Who the bloody hell is that?
Keep that up I'm going to have to assume you're an enemy spy,
actively announcing our presence to any Germans in the area.
Further to that, I'd have to shoot you for treason,
just to be on the safe side.
I'll stop whistling.
I thought you couldn't wait to meet the Germans.
Just don't want to get popped on patrol because
one of your private's got a spring in his step and a song in his heart.
Jesus Christ, Godley.
Well done, Sid. You found a watering hole.
One of you boys go back and get the horses...
Quiet! What's that?
Halt! Who goes there?
Step forward and be identified.
Go get the light...
THEY SPEAK IN THEIR LANGUAGE
SHE HUSHES HER CRYING BABY
What are this lot doing out here?
What is it they say about rats and sinking ships, sir?
They say you should always follow them.
Roger, Evans, Downing, George.
Get these people on their way.
Well, boys, I think it may be possible
that Lieutenant MJ Dease, C Company,
4th Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers,
has just fired the very first British bullet
of this entire bloody war!
That's quite something, mate.
Someone go and get the bloody horses.
MUSIC: "Big Exit" by PJ Harvey
# Look dead ahead
# See danger come
# I want a pistol
# I want a gun
# I'm scared, baby
# I want to run
# This was crazy
# Give me the gun. #
-That looks lovely.
-C'est pour ma fille.
HQ this way, boys?
-Down there to the left.
Private Billy Holbrook.
You've got mud on your uniform!
Oh, nothing gets past this one, does it?
Lieutenant Dease liberated an orchard from some gypos.
It was very exciting.
Does anyone know Corporal Jarvis of the Royal Engineers?
Oh great, the bloody engineers are lost now!
I passed a load of your lot back that way. Sid.
Bridge! Over here, now!
Someone was just here.
Probably just one of the locals.
"Lieutenant Dease, requesting permission to panic".
Remind me again why we let you in our army!
Put your back into it, Clarky.
Titsbrough, move your arse!
All right, Frank?
Sir, I've got orders from the Colonel,
have you seen Captain Forster?
He's in the town. What's the message?
We're stopping in Mons, only as long as we need to.
Be prepared to move on in the morning.
Intelligence is unsure of the enemy position.
C Company is to set up temporarily on our side of the canal.
The forest is too exposed.
The Colonel recognises that the position is vulnerable,
but the risk of enemy contact is low.
Thank you, Holbrook.
Sir, what do we do if the Germans show?
That's generally the way these things work, isn't it?
Bollocks. That's what this is.
Classic Army bollocks.
Every time we go out, same story.
Sapper Neary. They told me to report to you.
Neary! I've got good news for you.
You're going to die a hero.
Valiantly trying to complete a tactical demolition
without an exploder.
-There are exploders.
-There are four.
So? Maths is so!
I've got 18 bridges stretched across 20 miles of canal.
And you have been ordered to demolish exactly none of them.
You engineering boys are all the same,
not happy unless you're blowing the shit out of something.
Now, when you need a piece of kit you can come and find me.
Isn't there a roadblock you should be putting up somewhere?
By all means smoke near the explosives.
In your case, I actively encourage it.
Just wait for me to leave first, all right?
He's got a point, sir.
We're going to be walking over those bridges tomorrow.
I think we should probably leave them alone.
That's the problem with young men like you, Neary.
You've never fought a war, you forget there's another army fighting this one too.
We won't always have things our own way.
If we end up having to defend a town surrounded by bridges,
we may just wish we weren't,
and we may just wish we had a way of demolishing them
that doesn't involve waiting in line!
Yes, sir. Right away, sir!
Careful boys, the entire bloody war effort's relying on that thing.
Till it overheats and breaks down!
Let's give her a sighter.
Who wants a go?
I'm sure Godley could do with the practice.
Yeah, all right. I'll show you tarts how it's done.
Here's your Hun!
All right, Sid. Let's stop it there.
Give me a platoon of riflemen any day.
37 rounds a minute, that's our record, right lads!
Machine gun fires 600 rounds a minute.
36,000 rounds an hour.
It's got a range of 4,500 yards.
You change the barrel on this thing once an hour,
you can fire indefinitely.
You'd bloody have to!
Live rounds! Rapid...
Well, if the Germans throw tin cans at us, we'll know who to call.
That was embarrassing.
How's about you try having a go on that bloody thing?
This is the Royal Fusiliers, mate, we hit the target in this Battalion.
Bit like that?!
Out the bloody way.
Who started this?
Just to be clear,
any more of this and you'll be on a boat home for a court martial
and the most tremendous bollocking of your entire lives.
I want sentries across the canal.
Keep a 20-foot distance, and signal on your whistles
if you sight anything.
You, you and you.
The rest of you get on with it.
Get those boxes moved down there.
The ones in the khaki uniforms are on our side, Godley.
You'd do well to remember that.
We need some more sandbags down here.
Go and make yourself useful.
We fight for the man next to us, Sid.
That's how we win.
I keep telling you, you should get him transferred out.
The sooner we move on the better.
I want to go and check on the boys.
Let us know if you see anything.
Krauts are the ones with the pointy hats, right?
Anyone can hit a target with a rifle.
You don't need to get a head shot
when you're firing 500 rounds a minute on a machine gun, do you?!
When I'm done, he won't have a fucking head left.
Or any arms or legs.
Don't worry, mate, we'll sort all that out for you.
Well, at least you get to shoot something.
You still sulking about that?
I'm going to go through this whole war without firing a shot.
Yeah, well you ain't the only one.
Came last in every firing drill, didn't I?
They just let me load the flaming thing.
Turns out maybe you do need accuracy or something.
It's all bollocks.
-Anything to report?
A couple of squirrels...
..a few birds...
..other than that, as was.
Come on get him out, get him out.
Get him out here.
Does he speak English? English?
Keep him down boys, keep him down!
-Speak English? What's your name?
-Keep him down!
What's your name?
-We got one!
-Where did you find him?
In the woods a small group of Fritz cavalry.
The rest of them made it away but we shot this bastard off his horse.
I say we throw him in the canal, sir! See if he floats.
-Help him up.
Help him up for Christ's sake.
Lieutenant Dease, Royal Fusiliers.
You speak the King's?
Sprechen sie Englisch?
First week of the war and you take one in the leg.
That's luck for you.
Bloody hell was that a German, Sir?
Thought they were miles away?
Ask him if he's eaten any babies today, Sir!
Most of your boys are conscripts, aren't they?
I have to look after professionals...
..that's hard enough.
They'll take you from here.
I wish you luck, Lieutenant Dease.
Thank you, but I don't believe in luck.
Believe in luck, Lieutenant Dease,
or believe in God.
Because you are not ready for what's coming here.
Back at your station.
-Get this gun loaded and ready to fire.
I'll report to HQ.
If Lieutenant Steele makes a show, let me know.
Bring the ammunition down to the barricade.
Change of plan. They want us to prep the bridges for demolition.
It'll take us all night to rig one up.
Which is why we're starting right away.
What did that Kraut say, Sir?
He said if we hand you over they'll call off the war!
Lieutenant Steele returned from the woods yet? No, Sir.
I need a volunteer to go and tell the Lieutenant
-to get back over here.
-I'll do it, Sir.
-Thank you Private.
-You see anything out there?
German scout party was spotted. We caught one of them.
What did he tell you?
He said we weren't ready for what's coming here.
Well, did you tell him about Godley?
He seemed confident, Fred.
Even with a bullet in his leg, the smirking prick.
Bunch of German conscripts.
He was smiling, Fred.
He looked at our defences and he liked what he saw.
So this is it?
Shoddy build right here, you can tell we're in Europe.
We're doing them a favour taking this thing down.
It was tempting fate, Sir, your talk about the blowing the bridges.
So how're you doing it, then?
-I'm just here to assist.
-Oh, no, come on.
I've taken one in the leg.
I'm bleeding all over the shop, yelling for my dear old ma.
It's just you and a box of supplies.
German army's coming.
How are you going to neutralise this bridge?
-Affix the gun cotton and tamp down with clay.
-On the structure's weakest points
-You'll make sure all those points go at once?
-If they don't this bridge might not come down.
-I'll make sure.
-I'll cut exact lengths of cable.
-Any air bubbles in the clay?
-Gun cotton dry?
-So exact lengths of electric cable...
Attach the cable to the electric detonators in the clay at one end
and to the exploder on the other, push down on the exploder
and boom - neutralise the bridge.
You forgot about where you drag me to safety
but, apart from that, very good.
Yes, only, we don't have an exploder.
-No, we have four. Remember?
Do we know where any of them are?
I wrote a letter home.
I thought it prudent to give it to you
and likewise take your letter in case anything happened to us.
What I have to say to my wife has no business
in the pocket of your tunic.
No, of course.
We'll need a boat.
Bloody hell, Sid.
-What are you doing?
-It's the quickest route between here and HQ.
I need to memorise it.
How quick are you?
They don't pick us for speed.
It's the ability to relay messages, remember details.
Efficiency...that's what makes a good runner.
I'm really not that fast at all.
How's it looking?
Chances are if we cop it it'll be in a bloody great explosion
and there won't be anything left of either of us to take home anyway.
Get back to work.
What the fuck is this?
It's not bad, that.
Here you are, Sir, have a curly roll.
..war is hell.
I should be getting back.
Can you hold the line here?
(Is that a German?)
Yeah, I think it probably is.
Should I shoot him?
Yeah, I think you'd better had.
Right, listen. You take your sister and go
and find somewhere safe to hide, you understand?
Sling your hook!
Could be riding party...More scouts?
All right, lads, fall back to the bridge.
This ain't no place for kids. Come on.
Go on, shooo.
-What's the pound?
-30. Er, 32
-Are you sure?
-Did you tie these?
You don't leave here until this job's done properly.
Have you got that? Yes, Sir.
-Have you seen Lieutenant Steele?
Have you seen Lieutenant Dease?
CROSSFIRE OF BULLETS
Wiltshire, intelligence reports says...
..the Germans are here.
-Fucking all of them.
MACHINE GUN FIRES
That's the start of the fucking war right there! Come on!
They just marched right into it.
That's what happens when you've got civilians, instead of soldiers.
Holbrook go and tell the Colonel we've engaged the enemy,
-everything is under control.
Dease, you've had your fun.
We need to command these men.
I want a big pile of spent cartridges this side
and a big pile of dead Germans on that side!
Sir! Yes, Sir!
You all right there, Neville, darling?
Apart from the mud, Sid!
Apart from the fucking mud!
Do you see anything?
-Wait, hang on.
Yes, there! On the tree line!
CROSSFIRE OF GUNSHOTS
That's it, boys!
They're not coming in marching order any more! They're learning.
Stretcher! Stretcher bearers!
BARRAGE OF BULLETS CONTINUES
Damn it! Someone help that man!
Come on, boys!
Pick your targets!
Come on, lads!
Where did that come from?
Jesus, there's a whole battalion out there. Maybe more!
We'll bottle neck them onto the bridge.
-Let 'em run into your gun.
Yeah, we've got about a bullet for each of them.
-Oh, shit, not now...
-Fix that jam!
Get that gun working, get it working!
-I've got to get down there...
-No, you bloody don't!
Company! Covering fire! 15 rounds a minute! You know the order!
Rapid Fire! Fire!
Get down, Sir. Come on!
Left flank, left flank!
You're a bloody mad man!
We cannot afford to lose that gun.
And we can afford to lose you?
Enemy numbers higher than expected.
Most of them right here.
Nimy Bridge the critical asset.
Flanks to support
and engineers primed to blow bridges in sequence along the canal.
Orders to hold the bridge and repel the enemy, Sir.
Best keep that gun running, then.
Tell them that we may need support.
-Is this bridge ready to blow?
-Get a bloody move on, mate, the Germans are coming!
-Ah, you think!
Concentrate, give me the detonators.
-Shit! Sorry, Sir.
-Neary, don't think about them,
don't think about the Germans,
don't think about anything other than getting the job done.
OK? Yes, Sir.
There's more detonators on the bank, go and get them. Yes, Sir.
And Neary, do be very quick about it, won't you? Yes, Sir.
More ammo, quick!
We need a stretcher.
Keep the gun going!
Wait! Give them a chance!
-I'll be back!
BULLETS WHIZZ AROUND HIM
Concentrate fire on their machine guns!
All of them, pick your targets!
Take out the gunner!
Aim for the gunners! Take out the gunners!
He needs attention!
Your responsibility is to this gun, do you understand?
Yes, Sir. Right come on!
Sir, you've been hit
The gun, Godley.
NO ABATEMENT IN GUNFIRE
Sir, all units fully engaged along the canal, Sir.
Take the right flank!
MAN GROANS IN AGONY
Keep firing! This is for HQ.
They've got multiple machine guns, heavy artillery within range
and they're fucking us from three sides!
If we don't get more men down here,
that is going to be a Kraut bridge by sundown.
You can pretty that up for them if you want but get us more men!
-The Germans are coming!
-Aye, they're coming.
Did they not tell you war might be dangerous, Neary
-We need to blow this bridge.
-When it's ready and not before!
Yes, Sir, only we still don't have that exploder, do we?
Neary, I'm going to wait right here for you, son.
You get that exploder back for me. Bring it home Yes, Sir.
BULLETS WHIP OVERHEAD
To the left!
To the left!
They're bringing up the left flank.
To the left flank!
To the left!
Shoot the pricks on the left, Frank!
What do we do, Sir?
They won't stop coming.
-How's the ammo?
Frank's down, Sir!
We need a stretcher, he needs attention, Sir!
Godley he's gone! He's gone Godley, come on.
BARRAGE OF BULLETS INTENSIFIES
Where are the reinforcements?!
Captain Forster's dead. Lieutenant Mead also dead.
Captain Ashburner's injured, Sir!
The others are taking casualties all along the canal.
Enemy artillery and machine gun fire is greater than expected, Sir.
Just try and hold the bridge, Sir.
They said, try and hold the bridge.
Go and find out where our heavy guns are
and why they're not blowing the fuck out of the enemy.
Come on, Neary, where the hell are you?
Holbrook! Are you going to HQ?
-You need to hurry up, there's not many of 'em left!
Our line's broken to the east, our artillery's being pulled back.
There'll be no heavy guns, and no reinforcements.
They said it's a retreat
It's not a retreat.
It's a tactical withdrawal.
-We're not going?
If they are withdrawing, that makes us the last men.
We hold this bridge long enough
for the rest of the army to get out of Mons.
-Then we go.
-Do you need me to send a message back, sir?
I don't need a runner now, Holbrook.
I need you to get in there and grab
a rifle and fight alongside your mates.
See the job done.
You're good, sir.
Must be more fucked than we thought, sir.
Billy's got a rifle.
Keep at it.
Reinforcements will be on their way. Just keep fighting.
We need that machine gun!
Get your heads up, boys!
Get your heads up.
Stand fire and get your heads up.
MUSIC: "Red Apples" by Cat Power
We're going to lose the gun.
We're going to lose the gun.
Prepare to withdraw.
Get on the gun. Get on the gun!
All right. All right. That's it.
Look at me. All right?
-Stay on the gun.
Godley's got it. He's looking after it.
You did a bloody good job, Lieutenant.
Nothing else you could have done.
Right. Hold on, mate. Just hold on.
Short, controlled bursts.
I need to get these men off this line, Godley.
I can't do that without machine gun cover here.
I can do it, sir. You take the men away.
You know what I'm asking you?
Someone's got to stay to the end, sir.
Thank you, Sid.
I'm sorry, mate.
I'll look in on everyone.
I'll let them know you had my back the whole time.
I'll let the boys' families know you did everything you could.
Come on, then!
Get your men back now, Lieutenant.
And make sure Billy gets back safe, sir.
Come on, then!
Withdraw. Company, withdraw!
Draw back. Draw back.
-What about Sid, sir?
No, sir. We can't leave him.
Holbrook! Come on!
It's over. It's over.
Come on, Sid!
The lad who gave you this - is he dead?
Not when I left him, sir. Hurt pretty bad, though.
-Where did you leave him?
-Just off the main road, half a mile west.
All right. You want to put your hands over your ears now.
-Captain Forster went early.
Sid's not going to make it back either...
There'll be medals, sir.
They'll remember the 4th Fusiliers...
They'll remember we retreated.
They had too many guns for us.
How are you meant to defend yourself against that?
During the action, we lost Lieutenant Maurice Dease,
who also received the VC,
and I came under the command of Lieutenant Steele,
who then gave orders to remain and hold the position -
which I did do...
..although I was very badly wounded several times.
But when it was time for me to get away,
I smashed the machine gun up, threw it in the canal
and then crawled back on to the main road,
where I was picked up by two Germans and taken to hospital.
'Every soldier thinks about running away.'
There is no greater betrayal.
-You could be here instead of there. No-one...
You and your pals knew what you were signing up for.
I didn't sign up to be part of a firing squad.
Inspired by the Bafta-winning series Our War, which tracked the first-hand experiences of British troops on the front line in Afghanistan, this series immerses viewers in the real stories of British troops serving on the front line during World War I.
August 1914, two weeks after the First World War was declared. 80,000 British troops have arrived in southern Belgium, but they have yet to engage the enemy. Amongst these professional soldiers are the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, some of the best-trained gunners in the British Army.
Lieutenant Maurice Dease and his friend, Australian Lieutenant Fred Steele, command two companies of riflemen and machine gunners who find themselves camping overnight at Nimy Bridge, the northernmost point of the Mons-Conde Canal. The canal, surrounding the town of Mons, supports 18 bridges stretched along 20 miles of water - but everyone, including Private Sid Godley and his mate Private William Holbrook, expects to be crossing those bridges in the morning. Overnight, however, intelligence reports the Germans may be closer than the British think, and the Royal Engineers, including Lance Corporal Charles Jarvis and his sapper, Private Neary, are ordered to start preparing the bridges for demolition.
What happens next, on Sunday 23 August, tests the soldiers' skill, courage and ingenuity to the absolute limit, leading to the first Victoria Crosses of the First World War. Not everyone will make it through the First Day.