Dramatic reconstruction of events during the Battle of Ypres in the First World War.
"Further advances are made increasingly difficult by the enemy's erection of innumerable concrete forts known as "pill-boxes" which, armed with machine guns, wreak great havoc." M/S of soldiers crawling on the ground towards a pill-box. "Tanks are brought up to deal with the new menace." M/S of large tanks being driven towards the camera. "Many give a good account of themselves in spite of the glutinous morass over which they fight." M/S of tanks passing the camera amidst gunfire. Men climb onto the top of the tank. "Discovering the morning that shell fire has obliterated his tapes, Captain Robertson guides his tanks on foot, in full view of the enemy, rather than fail the infantry depending on them." Robertson walks through a very muddy field in front of a tank. "As is inevitable, his devotion costs him his life, but not before his foremost tanks have reached their objective and make possible the success which follows. Captain Robertson was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross." M/S of German soldiers in trench behind pill-box firing at oncoming tanks. Soldiers tend to a wounded man before climbing back into their tank and moving off. C/U of tank advancing over German trench. "Pill boxes still prove formidable, but, Australia has a way of dealing with formidable objects. Lance Corporal Peeler A.I.F. furnishes a typical example." M/S of Australian troops lying on the ground firing their rifles. Peeler runs forward holding a grenade. Interior of the pill box - German soldiers operating a gun.
"On the 3rd October Captain Clement Robertson, to ensure his tanks coming effectively into action on the following morning, spends the night under continuous shell fire marking a path through the swamp." Night shots of Robertson laying down a white stream of cloth to mark the path. M/S of the troops firing at the pill box. M/S of Peeler getting closer to his target. He throws the grenade through the hole in the pill box. Interior - we see an explosion and the German gunner falling to the ground. Peeler clambers over the pill box.
The soldiers advance. "Not content with having routed the enemy, Lance Corporal Peeler completes their annihilation with one of their own machine guns - and wins the Victoria Cross." Peeler climbs down into the pill box and emerges carrying a machine gun. He lies down in the mud and fires off the machine gun. "Save for a brief respite, the weather grows steadily worse - winter is approaching and still Passchendaele remains impregnable." Aerial view is used again to show how the British are advancing. "A final effort is launched. Throughout the day the issue remains in doubt." Men advance uphill. "By evening 20 weary Canadians find themselves in possession of Belle Vue Spur, an arm of Passchendaele Ridge." M/S of tired soldiers advancing upon a ridge. "In ignorance of the value of their capture, they rest in some disorder until Lieutenant Shankland, gathering reinforcements, rallies them and maintains the position against repeated attacks." Various shots of soldiers on the ridge. Shankland persuades them to stand up and carry on. "During a lull Lieutenant Shankland, though wounded, hurries back to his commander to report." Shankland is seen in silhouette running through shells to report. M/S of Shankland arriving at his destination and being greeted. He reports to his Commanding Officer: "I have fifty men on Belle Vue Spur sir - give me reinforcements and the ridge is ours!" The field radio operator gives his ear piece to the C.O. "The wires hum - the attack is recommenced. Shankland gets his reinforcements and later, a well merited Victoria Cross." the C.O. shakes Shankland's hand, gives him a drink of water then sends him on his way.
"The capture of Belle Vue makes possible the final assault. Wearied and exhausted battalions are called upon to make one last endeavour." Men "at ease" sleep on the ground. They are roused by a Sergeant. One man has a helmet over his face, it is taken off and it looks like he is having a nice dream. Through a camera trick we see an image of his dream superimposed over his head - he is riding a bicycle in the countryside.
He is woken up, looks a bit cross then yawns, resigning himself to putting on his battle dress. "In a war of heroic deeds, Passchendale will rank among the most heroic struggles. On 7th December, after five months of gruelling fighting, the crest of that tragically famous ridge is gained." Various shots of men running across the ridge through shots and explosions. They set up position at the top of the ridge. "And the victors can look down upon country unknown to British eyes since the fateful October of '14." Men standing on top of the ridge wave their helmets in victory.
This is presumably the end of the film although I would have expected more celebration and an end title.
Note: fantastic film with great battle footage - although reconstruction it is very well done and mostly realistic. Some overacting by today's standards though! There are a few sections which look like actuality footage filmed during the 1910s rather than in the 1920s - soldiers on parade and leaving for the front rather than actually at the front. Some very touching scenes such as men receiving mail from home and helping wounded comrades. All very nicely shot.
Note: footage taken from Imperial War Museum catalogue.