Somme 100

By Jane Wilson, volunteer

As we approach Armistice Day on Friday and Remembrance Sunday, this year many people will be remembering particularly the horrendous casualties suffered during the Battle of the Somme.  One of the project’s volunteers writes below about ‘Somme 100’ which we hope to bring to Teesdale next year.

On Friday 4th November, I was lucky enough to have a ticket to the Gala Theatre in Durham to see the 32nd international screening of ‘Somme 100’, a film from the Imperial War Museum’s collection, accompanied by a live performance of Laura Rossi’s specially written orchestral score. On this evening, the score was brought to life by the Durham University Orchestral Society.

The film covers the build up to the major offensive including bombardment of the German lines and footage of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Parts of the film show how the injured soldiers on both sides were dealt with by stretcher bearers and at dressing stations, as well as the capture and organisation of German prisoners of war.

Laura Rossi was asked to compose the music in 2006 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Somme, and has been instrumental in the aim this year, and next, to see 100 live performances of the music accompanying the film at showings around the world. Other live music presentations of the film have been seen as far around the world as Canada, France, Jersey and New Zealand, with showings in Berlin and the Netherlands upcoming during November.

We were lucky that Laura Rossi was present at the Durham performance and introduced the evening. She started by explaining how the film had been the first feature length film of its kind, showing in close detail the Battle of the Somme. In 1916, it was estimated the film was seen by half of the British adult population, a record only beaten since by Star Wars. Originally, the silent film may have been accompanied by groups of musicians playing rousing music and anthems.

Laura spoke about preparing for her composition with visits to the Somme Battlefield, using her Great Uncle Fred’s war diary as inspiration. He had been a stretcher bearer and had witnessed the lead up to and the action on the First Day of the Somme. His diary entry for the first day of the offensive simply reads

“Ist July. Dawn. Big Attack all along the line. Food scarce”.

The film makers included footage of the British trenches on that day, as well as the following day and Laura’s uncle’s diary entry for the 2nd July echoed exactly what the film showed:

“Many dead and wounded. Awful bombardment still on. Working day and night”

Laura Rossi spoke about composing a score that struck the right tone, and could move seamlessly between the varying scenes in the film. One moment we were watching lines of chirpy men marching towards the front line, next a large Howitzer gun being fired, then seeing German soldiers lying dead on the ground. The score is extremely well crafted and not only allowed me to accept scenes flowing from one to another, but I found myself in disbelief that the music and film had not always accompanied each other since 1916 – a true credit to the composer.

I would strongly recommend anyone to see a showing of Somme 100, and even if the musical score is not played live, the sights and sounds of the experience should move all that experience it.

Further details about ‘Somme 100’ are available at http://www.somme100film.com/