A century ago the first news stories relating to the Battle of the Somme began to appear in the British press. There was little awareness at this stage of the huge scale of losses on 1st July 1916, nor that the attack had been a failure except in some limited areas.
Illustrating the kicking of Billie Neville’s footballs on 1st July 1916.
But the press were already busy giving the story of the battle a positive spin. The Illustrated London News was a broadsheet size illustrated magazine with in-house artists who depicted the battle in contemporary drawings when at this stage largely no photographs were available.
Indian Cavalry at High Wood
These illustrations depict the bravery of the British soldier on the battlefield, and while they are propaganda they are well observed with details of uniforms and equipment all correct: in some respect that was a vital factor in them being believable.One hundred years later these images are part of the history themselves but they give a fascinating insight into how the Somme was depicted at the time.
Back in the 1980s I had the pleasure to interview several hundred veterans of the Great War. These recordings comes from interviews with E.G. Williams who served on the Somme with the Liverpool Pals, on the battlefield between Maricourt and Montauban on 1st July 1916. A century later we remember the generation that fought on the Somme through the words and memories of survivors like him.
The photo above shows Great War veterans Harry Fellows, Hugh Parry-Morris MM, Tom Price and behind them Bill Bashford, at Lochnagar Crater on 1st July 1985. The gentleman on the right was a French WW1 veteran.
This image shows men of the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) taken behind the lines at a chateau near Corbie, on the eve of the Battle of the Somme, a century ago. The men in this photo were about to go into action on 1st July 1916: the Black Day of the British Army. One hundred years on we look into the faces of these men as we remember the battle and somehow images like this continue to speak to us, continue to give us small insights into the Somme generation.
As Somme100 approaches two new films have gone online as part of the commemorations. The first of these is The Somme – A Spoken Word Poem which is a specially commissioned piece by British spoken-word poet Molly Case. This really is an incredibly moving film and the poem is just wonderful, proving that poetry matters and modern interpretations of the war through poetry still more than valid. Congratulations to the Royal British Legion for this as part of their own Somme100 initiatives.
The second film is from the Imperial War Museum and looks at some facts and figures about the Battle of the Somme but presents these in a fresh way. I particularly liked the way they blended old film onto the landscape today.