WEDNESDAY, APR. 25: The pain at the loss of a father killed in action was still raw in a documentary on the life and death of Major Anthony Smith, known as Toby, in World War II.
His oldest son and namesake, Anthony Jr, who saw his father last when he was aged just five, was unable to hide the grief he still felt at growing up without his dad.
Based on Sen. Jonathan Smith’s superb book In the Hour of Victory, the document charts the war of Maj Smith, his grandfather, through letters home to his wife Faith.
The father-of-five, who never saw his youngest child, was a member of the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps, who, despite the ties of home, felt obliged to volunteer to go overseas to combat the evils of Nazism and fought with the Lincolnshire Regiment.
Maj Smith, despite being a highly qualified infantry instructor, was determined to see action and fell aged 36. He was leading his troops in an ultimately successful attack on German soldiers dug into a Dutch wood in 1944, only months before the war in Europe ended.
His oldest son, who admitted he had never been able to read his father’s letters, said in an interview for the film: “I just kept asking her (Faith) when he was coming home — I just found it unbearable.”
And he told interviewers he had vowed that he would live to see his own children grow up.
Even Sen. Smith, who never met his grandfather — although he said he came to know him perhaps best in his family through his painstaking editing of his 300 letters to Faith — was overcome with emotion discussing him on camera.
The film, directed by Afflare Films’ Lucinda Spurling and co-directed by Andrew Kirkpatrick, was expanded from the proposed 30 minutes to an hour and 20 minutes — but never flags.
It received its sell-out premiere at the Bermuda Docs festival at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute on Saturday night.
The film uses actors, the real-life home of Maj. Smith in Paget and Warwick Camp as sets, as well as realistic battle scenes shot by a specialist company in Virginia and recreations of Maj. Smith’s wartime walks on the Yorkshire Moors, a million miles away from the horrors of battle.
Those are skillfully blended with blood-chilling archive footage of the Nazi war machine gearing up for world war and the creation of an empire they believed would last 1,000 years.
And, but for men like Maj. Smith and millions like him who came from all corners of the earth, it might have done.
Also included are interviews with war veterans, including other Bermudians like Sgt George Fisher, who chose to leave their insulated island home for the risks and privations of a Britain engaged in total war.
And these — as the number of veterans of a war which ended nearly 70 years ago dwindle — are among the most moving scenes in the film.
British officer Jack Harrod, who wrote the history of the 2nd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, provided an account of the Battle of Overloon, which claimed the life of Maj Smith and four other Bermudians.
He wrote: “We had little opportunity to get to know Maj AF Smith. But we know that he came all the way from Bermuda to serve the common cause and, in spite of his years, and the responsibilities of a large family, had forced his way to the fighting front.
“What could be more admirable in any man?”
Captain Yorke Sails, who had earlier served with Maj Smith, wrote in a letter of condolence to Faith: “Can it be wondered that Britain wins wars, when men like Toby are prepared to help her like he did?”
During the documentary, Sen Smith said his grandfather’s role in the war was “miniscule”.
Perhaps it was. But the story of his life and death is a major achievement.
And the war could not have been won without Maj Smith, and millions like him, who, despite the pull of home and family, insisted on doing what they thought was right.
The film will be shown again at the BUEI at 8pm this Friday — and I can only recommend it as an object lesson in what duty, self-sacrifice and courage really mean.
Tickets are available at www.bdatix.bm.