Saturday, May 12, 2007

First And Last

Two young soldiers died in battle at Mons, Belgium in World War I. In most respects, their lives and deaths were representative of the hundreds of thousands who died in the Great War. But in one respect they are unique.
Private John Parr, aged 20 years old, from Middlesex, England, was the first Allied soldier to die in the Great War. Four years later Private George Price, aged 25, from Nova Scotia in Canada was the last. Privates Parr and Price never met. But the circumstances of their deaths linked their lives for eternity. "Flanders: First and Last" tells their stories and in so doing tells the story of the War itself.
The duration of a conventional war is defined by the start of the first encounter to the end of the last encounter. And in every war, one soldier has the misfortune to be the first to die and another has perhaps the greater misfortune to be the last. First and Last examines one of the most terrible conflicts in modern history, the First World War, from this new viewpoint.
The story starts and ends in the graceful seclusion of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery of St Symphorien in the Mons suburb now known as Hainaut, Belgium. Two marble headstones, just several, orderly rows apart, mark the final resting places of the first and last British and Commonwealth soldiers to have been killed in the First World War. The first was British the last was a Canadian. This coincidence of time and place forms an evocative platform as the film tracks these young men through their last hours on earth before their tragic deaths in action.
Through painstaking original research , the facts of their lives and last days are pieced together from personal letters, diaries, private journals, regimental histories and archive, and new interviews. The circumstances of lives and deaths of the two men are recovered and placed in context against the broad tapestry of war. What emerges are not portraits of two "war heroes" but two ordinary men who were sucked into the vortex of the war only to become by tragic quirks of fate, book ends - the first and last to die.
First and Last combines the stories of two men, separated by four long years of war, but linked forever by setting and significance.


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