On Saturday, 17 June at The Voyager Academy, Walton, The City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra will be playing a live musical score to accompany a screening of the film The Battle of the Somme – part of the film’s Centenary Tour
Smiling awkwardly at the newfangled cameras, troops move towards the Front in the Great War. Their actions are far removed from the swagger and march of war films. The Battle of the Somme remains one of the most successful British films ever made. It is estimated that over 20million tickets were sold in Britain in the first two months of release, and the film was distributed world-wide to demonstrate to allies and neutrals Britain’s commitment to the First World War. It is estimated that over half the population of the UK (20 million at the time) watched The Battle of the Somme. It was a figure not matched until the release of Star Wars in 1977.
The source of many of that conflict’s most iconic images, it was made by British official cinematographers, Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell. Though it was not intended as a feature film, once the volume of the footage had been seen in London, the British Topical Committee for War Films decided to compile a full-length feature film. The Battle of the Somme gave its 1916 audience an unprecedented insight into the realities of trench warfare, controversially including the depiction of wounded and dead soldiers. It shows scenes of the build-up to the infantry offensive including the massive preliminary bombardment, coverage of the first day of the battle – the bloodiest single day in Britain’s military history – and depictions of the small gains and massive costs of the attack.
The Battle of the Somme’s importance was recognised in 2005 by its formal inscription in the UNESCO ‘Memory of the World’ register – the first British document of any kind to be included, and one of the few films that has so far been added to the register. British-born Laura Rossi’s new score was commissioned to mark the 90th anniversary of The Battle of the Somme as a soundtrack for the digitally restored film.
When embarking on her research on the film and the battle Laura discovered her great uncle, Fred Ainge, who she knew had survived the war, was a stretcher-bearer. In preparation for composing the new score she visited the Somme battlefields, using Fred’s diaries to locate the areas in which he served. The re-mastered film was screened for the anniversary of the battle to a full house at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, with the premiere receiving a five-star review in The Times. Steve Bingham will conduct the orchestra and Liz Taylor will be leader of the strings.
The Battle of the Somme
The Voyager Academy
Saturday, 17 June