Monday, 12 January 2009 8:30pm
World War 1’s Battle of the Somme, fought from 1 July to 18 November 1916, was a turning point in history. It was a modern battle of such prehistoric brutality that its horror is hard to comprehend. Brave patriotic men eagerly volunteered to fight for what they saw as a great and honourable cause, only to find themselves used as cannon fodder by their military and political leaders. Whole villages and communities marched to their deaths.
Narrated by Tilda Swinton, The Somme is a docu-drama which follows a group of young men through the first day of battle – a day when a whistle blow sent British and French soldiers ‘over the top’ and towards an almost certain death. Through reconstruction and historical records, the fates of several genuine officers and nurses who fought or served at the Battle of the Somme are followed. This was a battle fought by civilians on unfamiliar territory.
Private Cyril Jose, at the age of only fifteen, had lied on his conscription papers to join the swelling ranks of young men sent off to fight for their country. American heiress, Mary Borden, had left Chicago at the start of the Great War to work for the Red Cross, and by 1916 she had selflessly set up her own field hospital behind the British lines on the Somme. Captain Charlie May was only too aware of the impending slaughter and wrote a letter of farewell to his wife and baby just before going over the top. The planning of the battle was left to British General Rawlinson – a plan that would send thousands of men marching straight into the German machine gun posts.
Through the friendships and the fear, this moving film is told through the diaries and letters of men in the field – many of whom would never be reunited.