Norflicks Productions Ltd. - Library


BATTLE DIARY: A Day in the Life of Charlie Martin


Editor: Marta Nielsen, Susan Maggie
Writer: Richard Nielsen
Producer: Richard Nielsen, Deanne Judson
Director: Martyn Burke


One-hour documentary combining interviews, archival film and diary excerpts. An emotional and intensely personal account of D-Day through the eyes of Company Sergeant-Major Charlie Martin of the Queen's Own Rifles.

Battle Diary: A Day in the Life of Charlie Martin
Television Review by:
Brian D. Johnson, Macleans, June 1994

As Charlie Martin slowly walks the windswept beach at Bernieres-sur-mer, his cane leaving a faint impression on the wet sand, he tries to conjure up that day, 50 years ago, when he went to war for the first time - and saw his friends die around him. The grey-green waves still look forbidding and cold as he surveys the scene. And by cutting between the veteran's quiet reflections and grainy black-and-white war footage, Battle Diary: A Day in the Life of Charlie Martin manages to bridge that enormous gap between the distant memory and the horrifying immediacy of combat. With the one-hour documentary, producer Richard Nielsen and director Martyn Burke have created a moving tribute to the Canadians who died on the beaches at Normandy - and those who were lucky enough to survive.

The title is bit of a misnomer. While Martin's experience frames the show and sets its elegiac tone, the most revealing interviews are with others who participated in the operation. Col. Charles Dalton recalls that, aside from the fear of death, for an officer leading men into battle the biggest fear "is that you're not going to be able to perform." He remembers that when he was about two-thirds of the way across the beach on D-Day he "sneaked a look back" to check on his men. Seeing "a whole line of people lying on the beach," he recalls, "my first thought was, 'They've gone to ground, they didn't follow me.' And then I realized they were casualties. The machine guns were still firing at the ones that were wounded."

The documentary record of the Second World War is already considerable. But the focused, infantry-eye view of Battle Diary presents a more contemplative look at the horrible confusion of battle - and the nature of memory. As military historian Terry Copp points out in the program: "If you look at the battlefield from the bottom up rather than the top down, you see that as soon as the battle begins, the plan falls apart. The friction of war takes over and the fog of war takes over."

By using a stark, melancholy sound track of choral music and slowing the combat footage with a stop-action technique, the film-makers have created a haunting memorial. The simple contrast between the faces of the veterans and the photographs of the boys they once were is not easily forgotten.

CBC 1994