“Have you seen the Big Push films?” wrote Roland Mountford to his father in August 1916. Mountford was referring to The Battle of the Somme film. We are not certain that his father did see the film as we don’t have the reply, however it is more than likely that he did it as it’s estimated over 20 million viewed it. Reaction to the film was often divided.
“Crowds of Londoners feels no scruple at feasting their eyes on pictures which present the passion and death of British soldiers in the Battle of the Somme … a “film” of war’s hideous tragedy is welcomed. I beg leave respectfully to enter a protest against an entertainment which wounds the hearts and violates the very sanctities of bereavement.” (The Dean of Durham letter to The Times).
“We went on Wednesday night to a private view of the ‘Somme films’ i.e. the pictures taken during the recent fighting. To say that one enjoyed them would be untrue; but I am glad I went. I am glad I have seen the sort of thing our men have to go through, even to the sortie from the trench, and the falling in the barbed wire. There were pictures too of the battlefield after the fight, & of our gallant men lying all crumpled up & helpless. There were pictures of men mortally wounded being carried out of the communication trenches, with the look of agony on their faces.” (Frances Stevenson – David Lloyd George’s secretary).
Just as historians have debated the strategy and tactics of Haig et al, the representation of the battle and its effects on a nation, so too have they discussed the authenticity of the film. A discussion well covered in the Roger Smither article “A wonderful idea of the fighting” : the question of fakes in The Battle of the Somme. A search on the subject tree BBIH brings up the following references.
To expand the search to Film and all World War I click on the Refine search button…
…and replace “Battles, Somme 1916” with “Wars, World War I” for an overview of references to the war and film which includes cinema going, propaganda, representation of the war, and moral panics. Alternatively, delete the term “Film” and see the results for “Battles, Somme 1916”.
Surely truth is stranger than fiction!! Last night I had a most excellent sleep in No Mans Land, during a fairly heavy bombardment such as is practically continuous in this the greatest battle of the War!! … There is very little to say about this big show except the Artillery is awful and the flies are worse, whilst conditions of living are worse still. All the same we are exceptionally cheerful. We bear everything I hope like good soldiers proud to have beaten thoroughly the reputed “Invincible German Army”. The men are absolutely wonderful. My Company are in the best of spirit. I think you might send out 1000 Woodbines [cigarettes] for them.
Lt. Catford was to die 10 days later, he was 26 years old.