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Some of London’s fallen of 1 July 1916

The first day of the Battle of the Somme is one of the most remembered and commemorated days in Britain’s military history. On that day the British Army suffered its worst casualties of any single day in its history.

I try not to focus too much on the war dead – it is also important to remember those who served and survived (and to remember the impact of the war at home in London) – but the centenary of the first day of that battle stands out as a day to reflect on the cost of the war in the starkest terms. It is impossible to say how many Londoners were killed or wounded on 1 July 1916, but we can look at the record of London infantry units involved in the battle.

16 Middx

Soldiers of the 16th Battalion (Public Schools), Middlesex Regiment are taken back down the slope after having reached the crater on Hawthorn Ridge, which is on the centre of the horizon. The photograph was taken at 7.45 am, 1st July 1916. © IWM (Q 755)

If we look at the number of fatalities recorded for 1 July and the subsequent four days (many of whom would have died of wounds from 1 July), we can see how badly some of the London and Middlesex battalions were affected by the fighting. These figures come from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s database of the war dead:

Unit 01-Jul-16 02-Jul-16 03-Jul-16 04-Jul-16 05-Jul-16 Total Of which recorded on Thiepval memorial to the missing
1/2nd 1/3rd and 1/4th Bns, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) 275 11 7 4 5 302 183
1/12th Bn, London Regiment (The Rangers) 149 2 3 154 100
1/13th Bn, London Regiment (Kensingtons) 58 6 1 2 67 42
1/14th Bn, London Regiment (London Scottish) 220 3 1 224 180
1/15th Bn, London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade) 275 6 1 282 219
1/16th Bn, London Regiment (Queen’s Westminster Rifles) 172 2 1 175 131
1/9th Bn, London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles) 221 4 1 2 1 229 179
London Regiment total 1370 32 15 9 7 1433 1034
2nd Bn, Middlesex Regiment 270 3 1 0 0 274 237
4th Bn, Middlesex Regiment 90 82 0 2 0 174 113
12th Bn, Middlesex Regiment 6 0 0 0 8 14 4
16th Bn, Middlesex Regiment (Public Schools) 160 7 2 2 0 171 91
Middlesex Regiment total 526 92 3 4 8 633 445
               
London and Middeseex Regiments 1896 124 18 13 15 2066 1479

So, from these 11 battalions, over 2,000 men died over those days. Almost three quarters of them have no known grave and are recorded on the Thiepval memorial to the missing. (The ‘total’ figures are for these battalions, not the whole London or Middlesex Regiments, each of which suffered a handful of other casualties during those days).

Each figure in the table was, of course, a man – most likely a young men and in this case probably a Londoner. Among them were:

Clifford Hugh Butcher, an 18-year-old from Leyton, whom we met in a previous post about the appeals for information published in the newspapers during the latter half of 1916. His picture appeared in the Daily Sketch in August 1916.

Rfm Clifford H Butcher from Leyton

Rfm Clifford H Butcher from Leyton © IWM (HU 93372)

 

Private Henry Leicester Oldham from Lavender Hill, SW. He was the son of a retired butler and was serving in 9th Platoon, “C” Company, Queen’s Westminster Rifles when he was reported missing on 1 July.

Pte Henry L Oldham from Lavender Hill, Battersea

Pte Henry L Oldham from Lavender Hill,  Battersea © IWM (HU 93490)

 

 

One man who was wounded but not killed that day was Captain George Johnson, an old soldier commissioned from the ranks during the war. The National Army Museum has his tunic, which I discovered and researched for their 2006 exhibition on the Battle of the Somme when I was a curator there.

Tunic of Captain Johnson, 2nd Middlesex. He was wounded in the hip and arm on 1 July 1916, his tunic clearly shows where it was cut away from his wounds. Image © National Army Museum

Tunic of Captain Johnson, 2nd Middlesex. He was wounded in the hip and arm on 1 July 1916, his tunic clearly shows where it was cut away from his wounds. Image © National Army Museum

The caption I wrote for it is used on the NAM website:

“Johnson was wounded on 1 July 1916 during the attack on Ovillers-La Boisselle on the Somme. Machine-gun fire devastated his battalion and although a few men reached the second line of German trenches, by the end of the day all had returned to the British lines or lay in no-man’s land. All but 50 of the battalion were killed, wounded or reported missing. Johnson was wounded in the chest, pelvis and right forearm. You can see where his uniform was cut away from his arm. He survived the war and lived until his 90s.”

These men were just some of the thousands of Londoners who were killed or wounded on 1 July 1916. The British Army suffered nearly 60,000 casualties that day, including 19,000 dead. The sheer number of casualties – and the reality of the fighting that caused them – is almost unimaginable for most of us today. One hundred years on, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the sacrifice made by the nation, its Empire and its allies that day in Picardy.

 
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Posted by on 1 July 2016 in Ordinary Londoners, War Dead

 

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Lewis Havens’s voice: lost on the Somme, found in Hampstead

Delving into London and the Great War throws up many extraordinary stories, some of which happy endings. Lewis Havens’s story is one of those – seeing him lose his voice in the horror of Delville Wood but recover it three years later. Lewis Havens was a handyman living at 163 Newport Buildings, Shaftesbury Avenue, and working at the London Hippodrome.  He had married Minnie Gertrude Light in July 1912. Havens attested under the Derby Scheme in November 1915, approaching his 25th birthday, and was called up for service in the Rifle Brigade in April 1916.

Lewis Havens in uniform (image uploaded to Lives of the First World War by Milford Harrison)

Lewis Havens in uniform (image uploaded to Lives of the First World War by Milford Harrison)

Havens’s military career was short but eventful. After a few months of training, he was sent to the 8th Battalion in France on 24 August 1916 and joined the battalion on 8 September and went into Delville Wood. Delville Wood was the scene of great carnage in 1916. From July to the start of September, British and South African troops wrested control of the wood from the Germans as part of the Battle of the Somme. The Battle itself ended before Havens arrived, but it was far from safe: the 8th Rifle Brigade lost 100 men killed on 15 September alone – many more must have been wounded.  

 View from within Delville Wood, 20 September 1916 - just after Havens was wounded there. © IWM (Q 1156)


View from within Delville Wood, 20 September 1916 – just after Havens was wounded there. © IWM (Q 1156)

  Havens was one of those wounded in the wood that week. His medical record notes:

“When in trenches was blown up twice and gassed on Sept 14 and 15. Came to himself in Rouen Base Camp where he was for 3 days. Has been dumb ever since. Was deaf at first (3 months)”

He was immediately sent back to England, diagnosed with shell shock (neurasthenia) and was discharged in March 1917. He then returned to work at the London Hippodrome. According to the medical board Lewis Havens could hear perfectly well but was unable to speak. They noted that he had previously become mute 5 years earlier for two years following a fall through a trap door on a stage. The Hippodrome employed Havens as a “greencoat”. As the Milwaukee Journal explained “he attends to raising and lowering the front curtain and to placing, at the sides of the proscenium, the cards which bear the names of the next performers.” Able to hear but not speak, Havens adopted a whistling response to questions: once for “yes”, twice for “no”. In 1919, a performer named Mrs Wanda Lyon paid for Havens to see a masseur called Frank Horler, working at Sir Frederick Milner’s hostel for shell shock suffers in Hampstead. According to the Milwaukee Journal: “Intense was the astonishment of all on stage within hearing of Havens when he announced, just as he had before he went to the front: ‘All’s ready to begin’.” Understandably, Horler was not so surprised by the recovery, but he did express surprise at its speed: “I tried massage and electrical treatment for four days. On the fourth evening I saw him, and he surprised me by saying in a low voice, ‘I congratulate you.’” Another person who was pleasantly surprised was Havens’s young son, who was able to hear her father’s voice for the first time.

Havens and his daughter, from Daily Mirror 16 August 1919

Havens and his son, from Daily Mirror 16 August 1919

Sources:

 

 
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Posted by on 21 July 2015 in Ordinary Londoners

 

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The Squire brothers: on the Somme and at Jutland

In June and July 1916 the British army and navy took part in their largest battles so far in the Great War. London brothers Alfred and Sydney Squires played their parts in the two battles respectively, but their experiences were dramatically different.

Alfred Webb Squires worked as clerk for Nestlé’s and Anlgo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company in Eastcheap in the City in 1914. Sydney Charles Squires had also been a clerk before joining the Royal Navy in November 1910. They were the only surviving sons (by 1911) of Alfred Squires, a dock clerk with the Port of London Authority, and his wife Ann, nee Webb. Alfred junior lived with his parents in Arthurdon Road, near Ladywell cemetery in South London.

By the summer of 1914, Sydney was a sick bay attendant at Haslar Royal Navy Hospital in Gosport. Within days of the outbreak of war, on 8 August 1914, Alfred joined the 9th Battalion of the London Regiment – Queen Victoria’s Rifles. He went out to France with them in November 1914.

In the summer of 1916, Alfred was a stretcher bearer with his battalion, which went into battle at Gommecourt on 1 July 1916 as part of the 56th (London) Division, described by Martin Middlebrook as probably the best Territorial division in France at that time. The attack on Gommecourt was a diversionary attack alongside the main offensive at Albert. The events were vividly described by journalist Philip Gibbs in his post-war book Now it Can be Told:

“The Londoners of the 56th Division had no luck at all. Theirs was the worst luck because, by a desperate courage in assault, they did break through the German lines at Gommecourt. Their left was held by the London Rifle Brigade. The Rangers and the Queen Victoria Rifles — the old “Vics” — formed their center. Their right was made up by the London Scottish, and behind came the Queen’s Westminsters and the Kensingtons, who were to advance through their comrades to a farther objective. Across a wide No Man’s Land they suffered from the bursting of heavy crumps [of shell fire], and many fell. But they escaped annihilation by machine-gun fire and stormed through the upheaved earth into Gommecourt Park, killing many Germans and sending back batches of prisoners. They had done what they had been asked to do, and started building up barricades of earth and sand-bags, and then found they were in a death-trap. There were no [British] troops on their right or left. They had thrust out into a salient, which presently the enemy saw. The German gunners, with deadly skilled, boxed it round with shell-fire, so that the Londoners were enclosed by explosive walls, and then very slowly and carefully drew a line of bursting shells up and down, up and down that captured ground, ravaging its earth anew and smashing the life that crouched there — London life.”

This map (apologies for the image quality) from Martin Middlebrook’s book The First Day on the Somme shows the salient the Londoners pushed on into as they advanced south of Gommecourt. The “Vics” are the second from the left of the four foremost battalions in the diagram.

 

The attack on Gommecourt. From Martin Middlebrook 'The First Day on the Somme'

The attack on Gommecourt. From Martin Middlebrook ‘The First Day on the Somme’

 

London life certainly was smashed that day. The Queen’s Westminster Rifles suffered over 500 casualties, with all 28 officers and 475 of their rank and file killed, wounded or missing by the end of the day. Queen Victoria’s Rifles suffered heavily too, with nine officers and 212 other ranks listed as killed on that day by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database.

Among the other casualties in the “Vics” was Rifleman Squires, with gunshot wounds (meaning either bullets or other projectiles, such as shrapnel or shell fragments) to his right shoulder and his back, broken ribs and a punctured lung. He passed through 2/1st London Field Ambulance and 43 Casualty Clearing Station (at Warlencourt) before going on to No 2 Canadian General Hospital at Le Treport. He was sent back to the UK a few days later. In October, he was awarded the Military Medal. As we have seen before, this was a new medal established during the war and only awarded for bravery in the field.  No further details of A.W. Squires’s award are available online, but it seems safe to assume that he earned it for his bravery on 1 July 1916.

By November Alfred Squires was fit enough to rejoin his unit, but only in the UK – he worked as a grenade instructor, but never went back out to the Front. In 1918 he got married, and was demobilised after the war in 1919.

Sydney’s battle experience in June 1916 was considerably less dramatic. Although he was now based on board a ship, the HMS King George V, that took part in the Battle of Jutland, its participation was minimal. The Wikipedia page summarises it briefly: “King George V was lightly engaged during the battle, firing nine 13.5-in rounds at the German battlecruiser SMS Derfflinger, which missed. King George V was undamaged in the battle.” Sick-bay attendant S.C. Squires was probably not as busy as his comrades on other ships that day when over 6,000 British sailors were killed and over 600 wounded. He served on a number of other ships and stations over the next six years before leaving the navy in 1922, after twelve years’ service.

Experiences of the Great War could vary enormously. Both Squires brothers played their part in the major battles of 1916 – indeed both worked to help the sick and wounded – but their experiences were wildly different. Thankfully both survived the war.

Sources

Map from Martin Middlebrook ‘The First Day of the Battle of the Somme’

Findmypast: SC Squires service record

Ancestry: AW Squires service record

The Long, Long Trail – as ever an indispensable source of information.

Battle of the Somme website’s transcription of Philip Gibbs ‘Now It Can Be Told’

 
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Posted by on 1 July 2014 in Award-winners, Ordinary Londoners

 

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Three of the fallen of 1 July 1916

The first day of the 1916 Battle of the Somme is notorious as the deadliest day in British military history, the day when over 19,000 servicemen were killed in action for little territorial gain. This post remembers three Londoners who were among those thousands.

L/Cpl ECL Read, 8th Norfolks

L/Cpl ECL Read, 8th Norfolks

Edwin Cyril Laffan Read was born in South London in 1894 and educated at the London County Council School on Eardley Road, Streatham.  After leaving school, he became a tailor.  On 1 September 1914, he joined the army – at the height of the recruiting boom after the battle of Mons.  He joined the 8th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment. On 1 July 1916 he was serving with them in 53rd Brigade in 18th (Eastern) Division, which successfully attacked Montauban. He was killed and now lies buried in Dantzig British Cemetery in Mametz, in ground captured during the battle – but he was probably one of the 25 men of his division moved there from a cemetery in Carnoy.

Cpl R.L. Brewer, Queen's Westminster RIfles

Cpl R.L. Brewer, Queen’s Westminster RIfles and Royal Fusiliers

Richard Leslie Brewer was born in Leyton in 1895, the son of an insurance broker. He enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) on 14 September 1914 and served with them in malta and Egypt before landing at Cape Helles in Gallipoli in September 1915 and serving there until the retreat at the end of 1915. In 1916 he was transferred to the Western Front and in April joined the Queen’s Westminster Rifles (the 16th Battalion, London Regiment) as part of 56 (1st London) Division. On 1 July 1916, according to letters to his parents, he was seen to assist a wounded comrade before leading his platoon after their officer was hit.  Soon after that he was killed by a shot to the head; he now lies buried in Gommecourt, where hundreds of the dead of 56 Division lie.

2/Lt B Boncker, 1st East Yorks

2/Lt B Boncker, 1st East Yorks

Barry Boncker was born in Upper Norwood in August 1897, but educated at Ardingley College in Haywards Heath. In 1914, he was living on Upper Grove in South Norwood and working as a clerk at the National Bank of South Africa. On 1 September, he joined the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) in the ranks.  In November 1915 he was given a temporary commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the East Yorkshire Regiment. The official notice of his promotion was published in the London Gazette on 30 June 1916. On that day, he and the rest of A Company, 1st East Yorks, were parading and moving into their positions at Fricourt, where they were to attack at dawn on 1 July. The excellent Long, Long Trail website has a transcription of their war diary for that week, which describes how the brigade reached their first objective ‘in spite of heavy losses’ by 8.05 am. After repulsing a German attack, the battalion was too depleted to attack further and dug in. They were relieved by another brigade over night, leaving their positions by 6 a.m.  The 1st East Yorks were in action again over the next few days but 1 July was the bloodiest with five officers killed on that day alone out of six killed and anther 13 injured or missing by 4 July, along with 35 other ranks killed, 239 wounded, 158 missing and another nine wounded and missing. Barry Boncker was one of those four dead officers on 1 July 1916. He has no known grave, but is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing – just one of 72,203 names recorded there, 12,360 of them the fallen of 1 July 1916.

Sources:

de Ruvigney’s Roll of Honour (Brewer)

Croydon during the Great War (Read and Boncker)

Long Long Trail

 
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Posted by on 1 July 2013 in Events, Ordinary Londoners, War Dead

 

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Walter Tull and the black Great War heroes of the British Army

October is black history month in the UK. I will be including a few posts relating to black history and Great War London. First up is the most prominent black Londoner of the war, Walter Tull, and some of his fellow black British Army heroes of 1914-18.

Water Tull’s story is fairly well-known know, and is related in depth on websites including ‘Crossing the White Line’ (link). In short, he was born in Folkestone in 1888, the son of a Barbadian carpenter and his English wife. After both parents died while their children were young, Walter and his brother Edward were sent to the Children’s Home and Orphanage on Bonner Road, Bethnal Green. A keen footballer, the young Walter began playing for local Clapton FC in 1908-09 and was signed up as a professional footballer for Tottenham Hotspur the following season. Although he played well, racists incidents occurred at matches, and he was dropped from the first team. He found a new home, though, at Northampton Town FC, for whom he played 110 matches and scored 9 goals.

After the Great War began in summer 1914, there was much criticism of professional football for keeping men out of the army. In response a ‘Footballers’ Battalion’ was formed in the Middlesex Regiment (the 17th Bn) on 12 December. Tull was one of its earliest recruits, joining in London on 21 December and given the number 55. His rapid promotion over the next few months (lance corporal in February, corporal in June and lance serjeant in July 1915) is evidence of his leadership quality. The battalion – and L/Sgt Tull – arrived in France in November 1915, just in time for a freezing winter in the trenches. He served with them until April 1916 when he was admitted to a field hospital suffering from ‘acute mania’ and eventually sent back to the UK.

After a break in the reserve 27th and 6th battalions, Tull was clearly well enough to serve again and he arrived in the 23rd (2nd Football) Battalion on 20 September 1916, mid-way through the battle of Flers-Courcelette – part of the Battle of the Somme. He served with the unit through the battle of Le Transloy in October. In late November he filled out an application to be commissioned as an officer. A month later, his application was approved and he went to Scotland for officer training – despite a specific rule in Army Orders restricting officer status to men of ‘pure European descent’. He was the first black or mixed-race officer in the British Army.

Walter Tull’s application to become an officer

Rejoining the 23rd Middlesex as an officer, Tull was popular and effective. The unit fought through the 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) before being sent to Italy in November. In clashes on the river Piave, he was praised for his “gallantry and coolness” by Sir Sidney Lawford (commander of the 41st Division), who wrote described his heroism: “You were one of the first to cross the river prior to the raid, and during the raid you took the covering party of the main body across and brought them back without a casualty inspite of heavy fire.” He was recommended for the Military Cross, but was not awarded it.

Walter Tull and two fellow-officers

The 41st Division returned to France in February-March 1918, just in time for the German Spring Offensive, which was launched on 21 March. A few days in, during the First Battle of Bapaume, Tull was killed in action by a machine-gun bullet that hit him in the head. His body was buried by comrades, but as the Germans advanced the 23rd Middlesex retreated and the grave was lost. Tull is now commemorated on the Arras memorial to the missing. (A brother of his also died in the war: William, who is buried in Folkestone)

Walter Tull was an impressive man – coming from an orphanage to become a well-regarded officer is impressive enough, let alone doing so against a military law-book that denied non-white men the right to be officers. There is a campaign to award Tull the Military Cross posthumously, based on the assumption that it was denied purely because he was not white. While this may be the case, I find it unlikely that it was that simple – his commission was approved not only by officers who knew him but those (in administrative and training posts) who had never seen him in action, overlooking both his West Indian origins and his treatment for ‘mania’. The fact is that medals recommended were not always awarded: for example, Siegfried Sassoon was reportedly recommended for the Victoria Cross but did not receive it.

More pertinent to the Tull case is the intriguing example of Private John Williams, whose picture appeared in the African Telegraph in March 1919 with the title ‘The Man whom White Soldiers Call “The Black V.C.”.’ The caption then describes Williams as having been awarded the DCM, MM, Russian Cross of St George, French Médaille militaire and Légion d’honneur. He doesn’t appear to be wearing quite that many medals in the photo, but is certainly decorated and carrying four wound stripes. His ‘many brave deeds’ would supposedly have been enough to “earn any European the V.C.”

“The Black VC” Pte John Williams DCM MM (c)British Library

It is not clear whether Williams was British, West Indian or African, although having been honoured by the French he must have served in a British unit (rather than the British West Indies Regiment, which fought in the Middle East but only did support work in France and Flanders). It seems odd that his story has been forgotten while Tull has become a cause célèbre.

Another intriguing African Telegraph photo is this one – also from the African Telegraph – of ‘A West African Soldier “Walking Out” in London’. The story tells of the number of African soldiers in the British Army, who became known as “Coloured Army Knuts” (knut being a slang term for showy young men).

A West African soldier in London (c)British Library

“Some of these young men left their studies to join the British Army upon the outbreak of hostilities and rendered a very good account of themselves in the trenches and fields of Flanders, many of them wear coveted distinctions, and one form Oxford University won the M.C. for a particularly daring deed with the Tank Corps.”

If this report is accurate (I have no reason to think it false, but have not been able to corroborate it with other sources), then there was a Military Cross awarded to a black man during the Great War. This man’s background – as an African at Oxford University – was very different to Tull’s, but he must have been an officer or at least a Warrant Officer to be awarded the MC. Who was this man?

Telling the stories of these decorated black soldiers in Britain’s Great War army is not an attempt to do down Tull’s story. He was very impressive and brave; we should remember him and his sacrifice. But we should not assume that his lack of reward for his bravery was necessarily due to racism. Nor should we forget the other black soldiers who fought with great bravery in the same army.

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Update: since writing this, I have become aware of at least one black/mixed-race officer who was commissioned before Tull (and was also killed in action). Read more about G.E.K. Bemand on this blog post, where I tell his story and consider his and Tull’s parallel stories.

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Sources:
On Tull – resources on the website Crossing the White Line; Tull’s service record online at Movinghere.org.uk.
The Long, Long Trail.
BL photos tagged ‘black history month’

 
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Posted by on 1 October 2012 in Award-winners, Ordinary Londoners

 

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The Big Push on the Big Screen

This week in 1916 a blockbuster film had its first general release in London’s cinemas. The film went on to be the most popular film in British cinemas until 1977.  It showed genuine footage of men in battle on the Western Front in the Battle of the Somme.

The film was made by Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell, who mixed short sections of mocked up battle scenes with plenty of genuine footage of guns firing, troops moving around in the trenches, men attacking over no-man’s land, the wounded and the explosion of the mine under Hawthorn Ridge (on top of which was a german redoubt).

 

After a few private showings, the Battle of the Somme film opened in 34 cinemas across London on 21 August 1916. The next day, the Times reported that:

Never before has there been so large a demand for a long film. Managers of cinema houses have to make their arrangements many months ahead, and  in order to show the war pictures they have had to cut out of their programmes films rented many months ago for exhibition this week. […] The early arrangement of programmes has in some cases had the unfortunate effect of associating the war pictures with fimls of a light and trivial character, but this could hardly be avoided. One cannot imagine, however, that an audience which has seen men “go over” the parapet, and tumble back dead or wounded into the trench, can afterwards have the heart to laugh at picture theatre inanities.

A week later it was released across the country. Every copy of the film was reportedly in use that week. By the first week of Setember, the film was showing in more than 1000 ‘picture theatres’ across the UK.

Advert for the Somme film at the Philharmonic (Times 25.9.1916)

Famously, 20 million tickets for the film were sold in its first six weeks (in a nation of 45 million people). The next film to sell so many tickets was Star Wars in 1977 – more than 60 years later!

Most other films shown at the time were short pieces or serial shows – much more like TV programmes (soaps, news, dramas, comedies, etc) than what we see in the cinema today. The most popular of these attracted audiences of 10 million each week for their installments, which means that the success of The Battle of the Somme was as much in the continued demand for it (presumably more than 20 million tickets were sold over the month or so it was on, probably including many repeat attendances) as in the numbers watching in any one week – although the demand in late August was clearly vast. The film provided people in London and across the UK with a view of the battlefields like they had never had before. It interested millions and shocked a great number of them.

Frances Stevenson (Lloyd George’s secretary) wrote in her diary after a private showing on 4 August:

We went on Wednesday night to a private view of the ‘Some 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.

A photograph taken while filming. The caption in the film reads “British Tommies rescuing a comrade under shell fire. (This man died 30 minutes after reaching the trenches.)”

Similar films made in 1917 were nowhere near as successful, and people drifted back to the usual serial or comedy films (such as those of Charlie Chaplin). The Battle of the Somme was the great success in the war-documentary genre in the Great War. It was shown at a point when the images it showed were new and shocking, but (perhaps) before the failure of the Allies to win in 1916 made the war seem to grind on interminably.

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Sources:

The Times

Wikipedia

Nicholas Hiley, ‘ ‘At the Picture Palace’: The British Cinema Audience, 1895-1920’, John Fullerton (ed.), Celebrating 1895: the centenary of cinema

Nicholas Hiley, ‘Introduction’ in Geoffrey H Malins, How I Filmed the War

Nicholas Reeves, ‘Cinema, spectatorship and propaganda: ‘Battle of the Somme’ (1916) and its contemporary audience’ in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 17, No. 1.

Rachel Low (ed), History of British Film, Vol 3 (1914-1918).

Trevor Wilson, Myriad Faces of War

 
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Posted by on 24 August 2012 in Events, Ordinary Londoners

 

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Rain delays

July 1st, 1916 is one of the great memorable dates of the Great War for the British. The first day of the Battle of the Somme has a resonance, alongside the 11th of November. That this was not the date it was supposed to start might be a surprise, until one realises why: it was delayed by rain! A rain delay in mid-summer? That may seem familiar to any cricket or tennis fans this year.

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Posted by on 1 July 2012 in Events, Ordinary Londoners

 

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