141 Days: The Battle of
The Battle of the Somme
Going to the cinema was still a relatively new form of entertainment
at the start of the First World War. It was mainly popular amongst
working people. Film and photography had been strictly banned on the
Western Front by Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War.
However, with both a public and financial interest in screening films
from the front, the British Topical Committee for War Films succeeded in
gaining permission to film the war. “With Lord Kitchener in France”;
“Ypres, The Shell Shattered City of Flanders”; “With Our Territorials at
the Front” and “The Wonderful organisation of the RAMC and how our
wounded are cared for” had all been screened by 1916.
With the British Generals expecting the Battle of the Somme to be a
great victory they needed little convincing to permit two cameramen,
Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell, to record the battle. Filming began
at the end of June and continued to 9th July. Some of the more difficult
(and dangerous) scenes, such as soldiers leaving their trenches, were
filmed well behind the front line.
The film received its premier at the Scala Theatre in London on 10th
August 1916 and was distributed to a further 34 cinemas in London on
21st August. Some 20 million people watched the film in the first six
weeks, and it had not even made it to Lancaster by that time! In total
over 30 million people saw the film, about 70% of the population!
The film was shown at the Lancaster Palladium, in Market Street, on the
5th, 6th and 7th October. The Lancaster Guardian reported “record
houses were experienced last weekend when the Battle of the Somme
picture was appreciated by large numbers of Lancastrians. Quite a number
recognised relations amongst the fighting men, the cheerful
characteristic of the British forces, being quite a tonic to the war
pessimists so quickly diminishing in number.”
A screening of the Battle of the Somme film in the "Palladium" recreated
in the museum's exhibition.
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