Learning Curve, The Great War
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Useful notes: Source5
Extract from 'For the Empire', a film released in 1916
(Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, 714)
  • This extract comes from a film called 'For The Empire', which was made and released in 1916. Historians estimate that around 9 million people saw this film at cinemas all over the country. It was designed to generate support for the war, but it was also controversial because it gave audiences at home quite a good idea of what conditions in the trenches were like.
  • The main action scenes probably come from the Battle of the Somme, the main battle involving British forces in that year. The action scenes are mixed with scenes designed to boost support for the war.
  • This extract shows one of the main jobs of the soldier – digging trenches – and also soldiers going into battle.
  • The Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916 and lasted until November. It is best known for the terrible first day in which British forces suffered about 57,000 casualties.
  • An initial bombardment was supposed to destroy the German defences and cut the German barbed wire. Unfortunately, it was not as effective as planned. British troops marched into no man's land and were cut down by rifle, machine gun and shell fire.
  • For years historians had assumed that many of the action scenes in films like this were faked. Some certainly were, but recent research suggests many were not.
  • Some cameramen filmed from special fortifications that protected them. Others really did take action shots in the middle of the fighting. For example, Captain JB McDowell was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery as a cameraman. He actually went into no man's land ahead of the advancing troops so he could get a good shot of them coming towards him!
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