THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME
No director or author is credited in this documentary depicting one of the British Army’s key battles in Belgium. The film was produced on behalf of the British Topical Committee for War Films and shows the first few weeks of the Franco-British offensive against German positions. The combat was meant to end the war in 1916, but turned out to be the battle with the largest loss of human life in the First World War. The film shows the troop movements, the loading and firing of artillery, the trenches, the evacuation of casualties, the treatment of prisoners and craters created by artillery strikes, but also the war dead and their burial on the terrain after the battle and the ruined villages nearly completely destroyed in the battle. Even if the camera does not directly capture the fighting and only depicts the bombings from a safe distance, this is a unique record of the events that was shown in British cinemas just a few weeks after the start of the five-month battle.
“The Somme film has proved a mighty instrument in the service of recruiting; the newspapers still talk of its astounding realism, and it is generally admitted that the great kinematograph picture has done much to help the people of the British Empire to realise the wonderful spirit of our men in the face of almost insuperable difficulties; the splendid way in which our great citizen army has been organised; the vastness of the military machine we have created during the last two and a half years; and the immensity of the task which still faces us. (...) Mr. Lloyd George, after witnessing a display of the film, sent forth the following thrilling message to the nation: ‘Be up and doing! See that this picture, which is in itself an epic of self-sacrifice and gallantry, reaches every one. Herald the deeds of our brave men to the ends of the earth. This is your duty.’”
(Lieut. Geoffrey H. Malins: How I Filmed the War; Herbert Jenkins Ltd., London 1920)
Director of the Film Museum in Munich
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