It was called "The Great War," and of the many horrific battles it spawned, one of the bloodiest came in 1916. Troops of the British Empire -- from all corners of it -- came together for the Battle of the Somme.
Technically, the battle lasted from July through November of 1916. When it was over, nearly half-a-million men were killed on both the British and the German sides. It is generally considered one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
The so-called "First Day of the Somme" is considered the deadliest battle in the history of the British Army , with more than 50,000 casualties on that one day, July 1. But the British Army that fought at the Somme was hardly a unit culled from one or two small islands. Men from Australia, Bermuda, Canada, India and South Africa were among those who fought for the British Empire at the Somme.
The Battle of the Somme was actually made up of numerous separate battles. One of the most bloody came at Beaumont Hamel, and involved the Newfoundland Regiment. Then an independent dominion -- not a part of Canada, as it would become a few years later -- Newfoundland sent its regiment to fight in the Great War. The cauldron of its participation came at Beaumont Hamel. In a ferocious day of fighting, the regiment's 1st Battalion sustained 90 percent casualties. None of its officers were known to have answered the regimental roll call the next day.
"Men of the Empire" does not have any battle scenes. The action takes place before and after the bloody first day. Soldiers write poetry -- they did that in those days -- and worry about whether their slain officers were proud of them. And women served as nurses, dealing day after day with the carnage.
Most of the characters in "Men of the Empire" are young, probably way too young to be in the positions they are in. Theatre students can find roles that enable them to explore their ability to portray characters placed in horrific situations. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or comments about this unique play.
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