Our World War follows in the footsteps of WW1 soldiers

Lieutenant Fred Steele (played by Jefferson Hall) Lieutenant Fred Steele (played by Jefferson Hall) wrote an account of the Battle of Mons

August 1914. Troops from the Royal Fusiliers are yet to exchange enemy fire in the build-up to the First World War. Some of the best-trained gunners in the British Army have been sent to Mons in Belgium to await orders to cross into France.

In one horrifying day, many of these brave and young soldiers end up dead as a huge wave of Germans advance upon them in a surprise attack that sets off the horrors of the conflict.

This is the premise of First Day, one of a series of BBC Three films that explores the grim realities of the First World War through the eyes of the soldiers who actually fought in the battles.

Based on true stories and real people - corroborated by first-person accounts, diaries, letters and evidence - the Our World War series is tense and sometimes uncomfortable.

During a preview screening of the one-hour films in London, series producer Sue Horth estimates that about 80% of the drama - re-enacted by actors - is authentic and backed by historical facts.

Colin Barr, Our World War's executive producer, adds: '[These] are as close to reality as you can possibly get with the available material'.

Immersive filming

First Day borrows heavily from some of the techniques first used in Our War, which was filmed by soldiers in Afghanistan wearing cameras attached to their helmets.

Royal Fusilier Sid Godley (played by Theo Barklem Biggs) and companion Frank First Day focuses on a small group of men from the Royal Fusiliers

This time, however, viewers follow Private Holbrook (played by Calum Callaghan) as he runs between the Army's temporary headquarters in Mons and the front line. Every jerky movement, including his reactions to heavy artillery fire, is captured by the camera he wears strapped to his body.

It's Private Holbrook who breaks the news to his companions that there will be no reinforcements to help them overcome the heavily armed Germans advancing on a number of bridges stretching over 20 miles of water.

Among the people he tells is Lieutenant Fred Steele, an Australian who is one of the commanding officers at the Battle of Mons and who orders the soldiers to eventually retreat after many hours of desperate fighting. The film is partly based on his account of the battle, written shortly after it took place on August 23.


The three films in the series were meticulously researched for a year before any writing took place. Even the swearing - and there is plenty of it - is not a modern construct used for dramatic effect. 'We know there was a lot of swearing,' Barr says, adding that he's 'confident about how [the soldiers] articulated themselves.'

The music, however, is contemporary. 'Everyone will have a different view on that,' says Barr, who made Our War for the BBC. The executive producer explains that the music - one film includes Teenage Kicks - was intended to capture a spirit or attitude.

First Day also feels, at times, like it has taken some inspiration from video games. Asked if this will alienate some of the potential audience, Barr replies that he doesn't think so: 'I hope the dramas will feel truthful enough to get beyond the aesthetic.'

In addition to First Day, there is a film focusing on friends fighting in new battalions called 'pals' and a third episode called War Machine, which looks at the introduction of the Mark V tank. It includes an account of one solider that has not made public by his family before now.

An interactive episode gives viewers the chance to make difficult decisions based on real accounts of the Battle of the Somme.

Adrian Van Klaveren, controller of the Great War centenary, says these are the BBC's 'most ambitious and boldest programmes' marking the 100-year anniversary.


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