CORNER BROOK Much is known about the history of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and that fateful day in World War One when nearly the entire unit of soldiers was wiped out at Beaumont Hamel during the Battle of the Somme.
But what happened to the survivors of the regiment, the men known as the Blue Puttees?
That’s the history that Michael Wert hopes to fill in through a documentary project he’s working on titled “When the Boys Came Home: The Blue Puttees After the Great War.”
Wert, a writer and researcher, moved to Newfoundland from Ontario in 2009. And while he doesn’t have a connection to the Blue Puttees, he’s always had an interest in World War One.
“Because my grandfather was a World War One veteran,” said Wert. “He died before I was old enough to ask him about what he went through in the war.”
While in university, Wert’s interest in the war manifested itself in an undergraduate thesis.
After moving to St. John’s, Wert said, he was looking for a project and happened upon a dinner menu from a 1920 Blue Puttees reunion.
Ninety men showed up for the event and Wert said knowing what the regiment had gone through during the war got him wondering what happened to the men after.
“That kind of set me off on a trail to explore what happened to those guys,” he said. “To finding out what became of them.”
At first he planned a book project, but the more he delved into it, he thought it could be an interesting documentary.
He approached producer Mary Sexton, who agreed to get involved, and is also getting help from actor Andy Jones. CBC Television has signed on to air the documentary which Wert hopes to have completed by summer 2014, in time for the 100th anniversary of the break out of the war.
To find out the stories of the surviving men, including their attempts to re-adjust to civilian life, Wert is talking with their families and later this week plans to travel to Corner Brook.
He’s inviting anyone who had a relative in the Blue Puttees to drop by the Royal Canadian Legion on Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m
“Basically what I’m trying to do is just to gather any kind of memories or stories that these families have of what those people were like as individuals,” said Wert.
He said the aim is to try and imagine what these men went through in the war and how they came back and picked up their lives and carried on.
“Many of these guys lost friends,” said Wert. “Many of them lost brothers. Many of them suffered horrible wounds so they couldn’t work or they couldn’t work enough.”
Wert said he’s talked with about 30 families so far and has found that all are interested in sharing their stories and memories with him.
He said the families have the most amazing memories of their fathers or grandfathers. He said the men were very thankful to have their family around them and were loving individuals who desperately wanted to keep their families safe.
“And a lot of the families have a tremendous amount of pride in what their ancestor went through,” said Wert.
“And for someone like myself to come along and show interest, they’re only too happy to open up and share,” he said.
“The stories that these people have are often things that you won’t find in history books. Little tidbits of colour that add to the story.”
To contact Wert call 579-0662 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.