Families of soldiers help filmmaker shine light on Blue Puttees

Jamie Bennett
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Les Tulk (left) is interviewed by filmmaker Michael Wert at the Royal Canadian Legion in Corner Brook Saturday. Wert is doing research for an upcoming documentary about the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s Blue Puttees.
— Photo by Jamie Bennett/The Western Star

TC Media—Corner Brook

Tom Daniels lived most of his life without ever speaking of his experiences during the First World War.

A member of the famed Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s Blue Puttees, Daniels was not alone in his desire to forget the horror he witnessed on battlefields far from home.

How could he speak of the heat and the carnage in Gallipoli, or the killing fields of Beaumont Hamel where a soldier could be considered lucky to emerge from the mud with all limbs intact?

Born on a voyage to the province from Lebanon, Daniels was raised in Conception Bay and Spaniards Bay.

He fought his way through battles in Africa and Europe and was wounded just weeks before the war ended in 1918.

His wounds cost him a lung and several ribs, yet there was no time to complain — there was a province to build and a family to raise.

He and wife Sophie started in Buchans and eventually settled in Corner Brook, where the family swelled to include four children while Daniels found work as a cost accountant at the burgeoning International Pulp and Paper Mill. He later operated a successful local business from 1938-1955.

Things were moving along and the war receded from view.

There was little appetite to relive nights spent in muddy trenches where hundreds of rats would nibble at Daniels’ toes, swarms of lice would invade his shirt; how he’d spend weeks and months fending off nagging hunger while fighting a losing battle to stay dry amid the muck.

Now all these years later, Daniels’ son Peter, and a handful of other descendants of former Blue Puttees, had the chance to tell their loved ones’ stories Saturday to Michael Wert, a filmmaker who’s doing research for his documentary “When the Boys Came Home: The Blue Puttees After the Great War.”

Wert met with about 10 people during an information session at the Royal Canadian Legion. Through these interviews, he hopes to tell the story of what members of the Blue Puttees experienced in combat and later, at home.

Daniels told Wert his father spent 14 hours in a trench after being shot through the lung and was only saved when several German soldiers took him to a British field hospital.

Just like the lingering memories of fallen friends, Daniels said his father’s wound was a constant reminder of the battles of his youth.

“I thought a lot of him because he got through it,” Daniels said. “He was wounded and his wound never healed. He was an old man when he died and the wound was still open. He was a tough man.”

While stories were often scarce, Daniels said after living though almost-unimaginable horror, most men were never the same and chose to hide their emotional torment.

“People were being maimed and killed all over the place,” he said. “It was a very difficult, horrible ordeal for a man to go through ... just an inhuman situation, really.”

Despite his injury, the senior Daniels was an avid salmon fisherman and found solace on the safe, manicured fields of the local golf course, where the bunkers are minor annoyances compared to those he took uneasy refuge in as an enlisted man.

The younger Daniels said Wert’s project is long overdue, particularly since the sacrifice of a generation is slowly being lost to the years as old soldiers die and new battles emerge.

“I’d like to see what he can do with it,” he said of Wert’s film. “It will be interesting. People tend to forget and there are new wars coming along all the time. There is no need for any of them.”

For his part, Wert said he was pleased with the turnout at the session in the city. In addition to Daniels, he talked to other family members of veterans and received a number of tips which he will later explore.

“I’m trying to track down about 100 guys and find out what happened to them,” Wert said. “Saturday, there were people there who had information and I’m slowly working down my list and crossing people off.”

Ultimately, he’d like to explore what kind of men returned from war, what their experiences did to them and how that affected the rest of their lives.

He said he’s gotten the sense the whole province was touched in one way or another by the First World War, something he expects will become clearer as he continues  interviews around the province.

“I really feel like if I go different places people will talk and share their stories,” he said. “I came from Saturday’s event with four or five people to call, so that’s amazing.”

For more information,  contact Wert at (709)579-0662 or email him at michael.wert@bellaliant.net.

The Western Star

Organizations: Royal Canadian Legion

Geographic location: Gallipoli, Lebanon, Conception Bay Africa Europe Buchans Corner Brook Paper Mill Western Star

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  • Newf
    February 20, 2013 - 14:43

    For you Military history buffs...