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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 17:34 EDT

Palin’s Personal TV Quest Marks 90th Anniversary of Armistice

September 29, 2008

Using new research and photographs, along with contemporary film and newspapers, the Monty Python star-turned-travel writer and presenter embarked on a quest to unravel what happened to soldiers who fought to the last minute and beyond.His sombre film reveals how there were thousands of casualties in the hours after the Armistice was signed 90 years ago.Nine million soldiers lost their lives in the 1914-1918 conflict “the war to end all wars”.The amateur historian uses the research to tell the stories of four men – British, French, Canadian and American – who died shortly before the 11am ceasefire on November 11, 1918.In a sobering personal odyssey, Palin visited the battlefields of northern France and Belgium and also discovered the grave of his great-uncle Harry who died in the Battle of Somme in 1916.Palin’s film, for the BBC Timewatch series and co-produced by the Open University, will be shown on BBC2 at 8pm on November 1 as part of a season of BBC programmes marking the anniversary of the end of the war.He said: “The First World War has been so firmly etched in my mind since my schooldays that this Timewatch programme seemed a quite natural thing to be involved with.”It may be a little different in tone from my usual offerings, but in a small way it was as important to me as anything I’ve ever done.”The Armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed in a railway carriage in a forest at Compiegne, northern France at 5.10am on November 11, 1918.But the peace treaty did not come into effect on the frontline until six hours later – at 11am.As Palin toured Europe he discovered the tragedy that the killing continued on that last morning, with historians estimating that more than 10,000 soldiers on all sides were killed, wounded or missing on the final day.The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records 863 deaths of Commonwealth soldiers alone for 11/11/1918.According to the documentary, American General John Pershing did not believe in the Armistice and did not think Germany should be let off the hook.As a result, soldiers were thrown into battle on the Western Front right up to 11am.During filming, Palin travelled to the battlefields of the Argonne forest and found the soil still full of guns, bullets and personal items from the First World War.He also explored trenches and bunkers hidden in woods as well as the settings of final battles in northern France and Belgium.The Open University’s Stuart Mitchell, academic adviser for Timewatch series, said: “I’m hoping that it will inspire people to find out more about their own family stories from the First World War.”

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