The Battle of the Somme (1916): An Industrial Process Film that ‘Wounds the Heart’

  • Michael Hammond


The film images that we have of the Great War — the explosion of the mine at the Hawthorne redoubt, the over-the-top sequence and the haunting image of the exhausted British soldier moving through the trench towards the camera with a mortally wounded soldier on his back — are in large measure images drawn from the official war film The Battle of the Somme (1916). Since the 1960s these images have been used in television documentaries and tributes on Remembrance Day to reinforce the perception of a war of ‘lions led by donkeys’, of useless slaughter and the turning point of the century: the true dawning of modernity.


Narrative Structure Football Match Personal Recognition Educational Film Mass Audience 
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    S. D. Badsey, ‘Battle of the Somme: British War Propaganda’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 3 (1983), 99–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Modris Ecksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (London, 1989), p. 318.Google Scholar
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    For a full discussion of the changes in the relationship between the War Office and the Film Industry, see Nicholas Hiley, ‘Making War: The British News Media and Government Control, 1914–16’, PhD Thesis, Open University, 1985. That relationship in terms of the issue of exhibition of the official films is detailed in sections three and four. Nicholas Reeves, Official Film Propaganda During the First World War (London: Croom Helm, 1986) is an invaluable source of information on the production contexts of these films.Google Scholar
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    Sir Douglas Haig’s Great Push: The Battle of the Somme (London: Hutchinson, 1916), part 1, pp. 24–9. The series of photographs taken from the shot of ‘hidden batteries’ is depicted in the magazine as shells bursting over a German trench. The film clearly depicts these as hidden batteries, a fact that is borne out by the movement of a horse across the screen in the background, which lends a perspective to the image that the photographic reproduction of the magazine does not allow.Google Scholar
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    From Owen’s Preface to a volume intended to include only his war poems, in Dominic Hibberd (ed.), Wilfred Owen: War Poems and Others (London: Chatto and Windus, 1973), p. 137.Google Scholar

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© Michael Hammond 2011

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  • Michael Hammond

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