From war hero to movie star
USING more than 55,000kg of explosives, the late Oliver Woodward became a hero when he helped break a stalemate on the Western Front in Belgium during World War I.
And now the man who was born in Tenterfield and raised in Drake is also a star on the silver screen.
The new $9.6 million Australian war movie, Beneath Hill 60, is based on Woodward’s life. It is a story that has never been told before.
Set beneath the trenches of World War I in 1916, it follows the exploits of Woodward – a miner who was under-trained and had never faced hostile fire.
Woodward was born in a small cottage in Tenterfield in 1885, and went to school in the nearby village of Drake.
He would later use his locally-acquired mining skills to detonate the biggest man-made explosion in history.
Hill 60 was a slight hill, made from the diggings of the railway line to Ypres in Belgium. It had a German machinegun bunker on top, but all efforts to take it out had failed.
The order was given to take the struggle underground.
In 1917, Woodward’s company took over tunnelling operations and laid two mines, one charged with 24,000kg of explosives and the other with 31,750kg.
He was the man who flicked the switch that destroyed Hill 60 on June 7, 1917 – a move which broke the stalemate.
For these actions Woodward was awarded a Military Cross and Two Bars.
Beneath Hill 60 is based on his unpublished autobiography, written after the war.
Only a few copies exist, and they are scattered around the world. One is at the Imperial War Museum in London; one is in New York.
Another remains in Tenterfield with Peter Reid, a distant relative of Woodward.
“It is such an amazing story,” Mr Reid said.
“The amount of detail in it – detailing clothing, all the maps, trench designs – is amazing, too.
“To me, one of the reasons it can even become a movie is because of Oliver’s accuracy and attention to detail in the autobiography.”
Mr Reid described the autobiography as ‘deta- ched, but involved’ and suspects it was a coping mec- hanism for Woodward.
“It’s very unemotional. You don’t get a feeling for the ‘blood and guts’ of the war,” he said.
Beneath Hill 60 is now showing at selected cinemas across the Northern Rivers.