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Skye soldiers in the firing line

the machine gun and skye's band of brothers

the machine gun and skye's band of brothers

BBC TWO, 9.30pm

Gun versus man: man loses. Gun versus a thousand men: man still loses because the gun is the Maxim, which the Germans used so precisely during the First World War

The historian and film-maker Neil Oliver explores the story of the gun as well as some of the men it killed, in this case soldiers from Skye who went to the front together as part of the Cameron Highlanders.

In the First World War, friends signed up together and served together, shoulder to shoulder. It meant that one burst of machine gun fire could hit scores of men from the same village, farm, town or factory. Oliver describes the dreadful human cost of the Maxim that could fire 666 rounds per minute.

The gun had been invented by an American living in London. Yet it was the German army who built them in great numbers and also learned to deploy them with mathematical precision on the Western Front.

In The Machine Gun And Skye's Band of Brothers, the development of the science of the gun is interwoven with the story of the small company of soldiers that would come to face these horrific weapons.

Oliver's journey begins at the rolls of honour in the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle, which contains lists of casualties from the Scottish regiments, grouped together in clusters of the same places of birth and death.

He then follows the stories of the soldiers from Skye who went to the Front together as part of the Cameron Highlanders. Drawing on letters that the men sent home and the details of the battles they fought, the documentary gives a poignant account of their lives and destinies.

The programme is part of the BBC's World War One Centenary season, which has included debate, polemic, drama and documentary and, so far, has got the tone just right.

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