10/8/1916 “The Battle of the Somme” film has its première

In France the Battle of the Somme rages. For Britain the loss of life in the fighting is like nothing yet seen in the war. Most families have a son, brother or husband serving on the Western Front, many of whom are taking part in the battle. This leads to a great curiosity about the conditions the soldiers face.

In an effort to reinforce the bond between the men at the front and the people at home, the British authorities commissioned two cinematographers, Geoffrey H. Mallins and John McDowell, to shoot footage of the early days of the Battle of the Somme. Now edited and combined with staged scenes shot away from the front, Mallins & McDowell’s film The Battle of the Somme is premièred in London.

The film is propaganda,attempting to emphasise the positive results of the battle. Viewers keep seeing German prisoners being escorted to the rear, an indicator of the battle’s success; sometimes the prisoners and their captors mug up for the camera. The film also shows plenty of cheerful British troops bearing up in trying circumstances. Yet the film-makers know that people are aware of the heavy casualties British troops are suffering in the fighting. These cannot be hidden in the film and there are shocking sequences showing unburied corpses and injured men being carried to field dressing stations. One image shows a man carrying a wounded comrade; an inter-title then tells viewers that the injured man died 30 minutes after being photographed. The film then tries to reassure its audience by showing other injured men receiving prompt medical treatment. It ends with more prisoners being taken away to England as cheerful British troops move forward to continue the offensive.

The film’s première is a great success. The Battle of the Somme will go on general release later in the month.

image sources:

Première invitation (1914-1918-Online: International Encyclopedia of the First World War)

Unknown soldier carrying fatally wounded comrade (Wikipedia)

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