Diary of Frances Stevenson

Diary of Frances Stevenson, 4 August 1916, Parliamentary Archives, FLS/4

Source: Frances Stevenson, diary entry for 4 August 1916, Parliamentary Archives, FLS/4

Text: Friday, 4 August 1916

We went on Wednesday night to a private view of the “Somme Films” i.e. the pictures taken during the recent fighting. To say that one enjoyed them would be untrue; but I am glad I went. I am glad I have seen the sort of thing our men have to go through, even to the sortie from the trench, and the falling in the barbed wire. There were picture too of the battlefield after the fight, & of our gallant men lying all crumpled up & helpless. There were pictures of men mortally wounded being carried out of the communication trenches, with the look of agony o their faces. It reminded me of what Paul’s last hours were: I have often tried to imagine to myself what he went through, but now I know: and I shall never forget. It was like going through a tragedy. I felt something of what the Greeks must have felt when they went in their crowds to witness those grand old plays – to be purged in their minds through pity and terror.

Comments: Frances Stevenson (1888-1972), later Frances Lloyd George, Countess Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, was at this time private secretary to the Secretary of State for War David Lloyd George, and his mistress. They married in 1943. Lloyd George, who is “D” in the full diary entry, became prime minister in December 1916. The film they saw The Battle of the Somme, a documentary feature made by the British Topical Committee for War Films, which had a huge impact on audiences when it was released commercially in August 1916. My thanks to Carol O’Sullivan for having alerted me to the diary’s entry publication online.

Links: Copy at the Parliamentary Archives

Is it right to let us see men dying?

The Battle of the Somme (1916)

Source: James Douglas, extracts from article in The Star, 25 September 1916, p. 2, quoted in Nicholas Reeves, Official British Film Propaganda During the First World War (London: Croom Helm, 1986), pp. 244-245

Text: Is it right to let us see men dying? Yes. Is it a sacrilege? No. If our spirit be purged of curiosity and purified with awe the sight is hallowed. There is no sacrilege if we are fit for the seeing. And I think the seeing ennobled and exalted us. There was a religious reverence in the silence closing over the sobs … I say it is regenerative and resurrective for us to see war stripped bare. Heaven knows that we need the supreme katharsis, the ultimate cleansing. We grow indifferent too quickly … These are dreadful sights but their dreadfulness is as wholesome as Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’. It shakes the kaleidoscope of war into human reality. Now I know why soldiers are nobler than civilians in their tenderness and their chivalry and their charity … I say that these pictures are good for us.

Comments: James Douglas (1867-1940) was a British journalist, editor of The Star newspaper from 1908 to 1920. The above is an extract from a longer commentary on The Battle of the Somme (UK 1916), a documentary produced by the British Topical Committee for War Films, which was seen by millions in the UK and beyond, bringing home to many something of the reality of war. A scene in which British soldiers appeared to go ‘over the top’, some of them falling dead, illustrated above (and now known to have been simulated), had a particularly powerful effect on audiences and is probably the sequence Douglas refers to.

Moving Pictures

Source: Stephen Paget, ‘Moving Pictures’, in I Sometimes Think: Essays for the Young People (London: Macmillan, 1916), pp. 68-85

Text: We are so accustomed to moving pictures, that we do not trouble ourselves to study their nature, or their place in the general order of things. We take them for granted. Youth, especially, takes them for granted, having no memory of a time when they were not. But some of us were born into a world in which all the pictures stood still: and I challenge youth to defend the cause of moving pictures. Let the lists be set, and the signal given for the assault. On the shield of youth, the motto is Moving Pictures are All Right. On my antiquated shield, the motto is Pictures Ought Not to Move.

Pictures, of one sort or another, are of immemorial age. Portraits of the mammoth were scratched on gnawed bones, by cave-dwellers, centuries of centuries ago: and we look now at their dug-up work, and feel ourselves in touch with them. The nature of pictures was decided at the very beginning of things, as the natures of trees and of metals were decided. It is not the nature of trees to walk, nor of metals to run uphill: it is not the nature of pictures to move. Pictures and statues, by the law of their being, are forbidden to move. That commandment is laid on them which Joshua, in the Bible-story, lays on the sun and the moon–Stand thou still. They must be motionless: ’tis their nature to: they exist on that understanding, as you and I exist on the understanding that we are mortal. If I were not to die, I should not be a man. If pictures were to move, they would not be pictures.

So we come to this difficulty, that moving pictures are not pictures. We cannot evade it by giving another name to them; for it is a difficulty not of names but of natures. Let us examine it with decent care.

Moving pictures have got mankind in their enchanted net. They have unfailing power over us. Old and young, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, we are all under their spell. So magical are they, that every owner of a picture-palace would have been burned alive, not very long ago, for diabolical practices. The world is their scenery, life is their repertory, and all things in earth and air and sea are their company. They will give you, like the strolling players in Hamlet, what you desire:–

The best actors in the world, either for tragedy,
comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical,
historical-pastoral, tragical-historical,
tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene
individable, or poem unlimited.

Every little country-town is familiar with this vivid and precipitate entertainment. No other invention of our time–neither the electric light, nor telephones, nor aeroplanes, nor all three of them together–can show such a record of change wrought on us. Well then, what is wrong with moving pictures? Is anything wrong with them? Why should not pictures move, now that they can?

No, they must mind their own business, and do their duty in that state of life unto which it has pleased God to call them. It is not their business to move. If they were to move, the effect would be horrible: it would kill our enjoyment of them. Imagine how we should feel, if sculpture could be made to move: statues of Royalty bowing this way and that, statues of orators waving scrolls, and statues of generals waving swords: the lions in Trafalgar Square shaking their manes, and Miss Nightingale in Pall Mall raising and lowering her lamp. We should be pleased for a day or two, then bored, then disgusted. Imagine our pictures moving: the photographs on the mantelpiece, the advertisements, the big Raphael in the National Gallery.

The advertisements would matter least, because nobody cares how advertisements behave or misbehave. I have one in front of me, at this moment, from a religious journal, or a patent medicine which “creates cheerfulness by cleansing the system of its poisonous bye-products.” There is a picture of two men, one moping, the other alert. I should not like to see it move. I prefer it as it is. My imagination is free, so long as the picture is motionless; but would be hindered, if the picture moved.

The photograph of a friend, on my mantelpiece, gives play to my remembrance of him. Within the limits of photography, it is perfect. But if it moved–if its eyes followed me about the room, and its hands had that little gesture which he had with his hands, and its lips opened and shut–it would be hateful, and I should throw it in the fire.

The great pictures in the National Gallery–the Rembrandt portraits, the Raphael Madonnas–imagine them moving. Their beauty would vanish, their nature would be destroyed. The Trustees would immediately sell them, to get rid of them. Probably, they would go on tour: admission threepence, children a penny. Then they would be “filmed,” and the films would be “released,” and a hundred reproductions would be gibbering all over the country. The originals would finally be bartered, in Central Africa, to impressionable native potentates, in exchange for skins or tusks: and if pictures were able to curse, these certainly would curse the day on which they began to move.

By these instances, it is evident that pictures ought not to move. The worse they are, the less it would shock us if they did. The better they are, the more it would shock us. Why must they not move? Because they are works of art. It follows, that moving pictures are not works of art.

They are works of science: they are “scientific toys.” Science invented them, just for the fun of inventing them: made them out of an old “optical illusion.” They are that friend of my childhood, the zoëtrope, or wheel of life, adjusted to show the products of instantaneous photography. They are “applied science.” You are so familiar with them that you overlook the ingenuity of them. Here I have the advantage of you: for they came so late into my life that I was properly amazed at them. My first sight of a moving picture, like my first sight of an x-ray picture, was a revelation not to be forgotten. There was a procession of cavalry: and when I saw a photograph whisking its tail, I marvelled at a new power come into the world, and am still marvelling. But you will never get the full delight of moving pictures till you have lectured with them, been behind the scenes, handled films, and become well acquainted with those hot little fire-proof chambers where the wheels are set spinning, and the great shafts of light are projected, and out of the whirlwind of electrical forces the picture flings itself on the screen. Only, for this invention, give honour where honour is due, to Science.

But scientific inventions, unlike works of art, have an immeasurable power of growth and development. They can be improved ad libitum: they can be multiplied ad infinitum. Nothing could be less like a work of art coming from a studio than a scientific invention coming from a laboratory. The work of art is made once and for all: it may be copied, but it cannot be repeated: you cannot have two sets of Elgin Marbles, or two Sistine Madonnas. The scientific invention is like the genie who came out of the fisherman’s jar: you cannot tell where it will stop, nor what it will do next. Moving pictures may be nothing more than a scientific toy, but they are the whole world’s favourite toy: the whole world is playing with them: and if they were suddenly to be taken away, the whole world would miss them. Think what a colossal enterprise this world’s plaything now is: what legions of lives, what millions of money, are spent over the production, multiplication, and exhibition of moving pictures. Famous actors pose for them, thousands of secondary actors make a living out of them, the ends of the earth are ransacked for new scenes and subjects: even politics, and international rivalries, are dragged in the train of this huge industry. I have read of the factions which divided the people of Byzantium over their chariot-races: but these were nothing to the world’s submission to moving pictures. Is there any limit to their kingdom, any measure of their influences? These factories and companies and wholesale houses and palaces and flaming advertisements everywhere–what will be the end of it all? Thirty years hence, will they have more power over us than they have now, or less?

I hope they will have less, and will use it more carefully. I should like to see the War bring down the moving-pictures business to one-third of its present size, bring it down with a rush, and with the prospect of a further reduction. Picture-palaces in London are like public-houses: too many of them, too many of us nipping in them; too many people making money out of us, whether we be nipping in the palaces or the houses. The more we patronise them, the more they exploit us: and some of us are taking more films than are good for us. Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale? But we can easily get so fond of cakes and ale that we spoil our appetites for our regular meals. Besides, our cakes ought to be wholesome, and our ale ought not to be adulterated. The bill of fare, at the picture-palaces, includes trash: but it pays them to sell it to us: and we behave as if these palaces belonged to us, while they behave as if we belonged to them. Picture-palaces and public-houses, alike, amuse all of us and enrich some of us: they do good, they do harm: they have to be watched, these by censorship, those by the police: and both these and those are backed by wealth, and by interests too powerful to be set aside. The differences between them are accidental: the likenesses between them are essential. The moving-pictures trade is the younger of the two: and the result on us of too many films is different from the result of too much liquor. But these differences are not very profound: and the likenesses are plain enough. They would be even more plain to us, if we could have our moving pictures at home, as we have our liquor, out of a bottle. We have to go into the street for them: we have to consume them on the premises. If we could have them at home, as it were in half-pints, all to ourselves, we should more distinctly feel it our duty to draw the line at one or two, for fear of getting into a habit of them.


What is the nature of moving pictures? What are they “of themselves,” and where do they come in the general order of things? Take, for instance, a waterfall. If we look at a waterfall, we see water moving. If we look at a picture of a waterfall, we imagine water moving. If we look at a moving picture of a waterfall, we see a picture moving, a very beautiful object: still, we are looking at an “optical illusion,” not at a waterfall. Or take a more critical example: take a moving picture which not merely moves, but acts. What is it, really, that we are looking at, when we see, on the screen, Hamlet, or How She Rescued Him, or Charlie Chaplin? It was my privilege and honour, in the first winter of the War, to give lantern-lectures to soldiers, on the protective treatment against typhoid fever: and one happy day, we had Charlie Chaplin, till it was time to have Pasteur and the bacilli of typhoid. Besides, I have met his flat effigy, again and again, outside the palaces: that little hat and moustache, and the look of Shelley about the eyes, and that suit of clothes, and the little cane which, like General Gordon’s, is so curiously personal and inseparable from him. So I feel that I know him; and I know that I envy him: for he makes, they say, a very large income: and the laughter which he gave us that day was as clean and wholesome as the smell of a pinewood: which is more than you can say of all picture-house laughter.

But what is it, really, that I was looking at, on the screen? He is an actor equal to Dan Leno: the same unfaltering originality, the same talent for dominating the scene, holding our attention, appealing to us by his diminutive stature, his gentle acceptance of situations as he finds them, his half-unconscious air of doing unnatural things in a natural way. But think what we lose in the transition from Dan Leno on the stage to Charlie Chaplin on the screen. Dan was really there: Charlie is not. Dan talked and sang: Charlie is mute. Dan’s performance was human: Charlie’s, by the cutting of the film, and by the driving of the machine at great speed, is super-human. In brief, on the Drury Lane stage I saw Dan Leno, and heard him: but on the screen I do not see Charlie Chaplin–let alone hearing him: I see only a moving picture of him: and this picture so cleverly faked that I see him doing what he never did nor ever could. It was delightful, every moment of it: all the same, it is an optical illusion. Nor is it a straightforward illusion, like the old zoëtrope: it is rendered grotesque and fantastical by the conjuring-tricks of the people who made the film.

Still, he was delightful; for it was pantomime, dumb-show, knockabout farce, with a touch of magic in it. But I could not bring myself to see Macbeth or Hamlet on the screen; for I have seen Irving’s Macbeth and Forbes-Robertson’s Hamlet, heard their voices, learned my Shakespeare from them. Shakespeare without the words, Shakespeare without the living presence of the actor, would be intolerable. You can see, or lately could, at the “Old Vic” in the Waterloo Bridge Road, for threepence, Shakespeare acted, nobly acted, with simplicity and with dignity. Let nothing ever induce you to see him “filmed.”

Of the rest of the legion of filmed plays, let him write who can. The output of the London picture-palaces, in farce, comedy, drama, and melodrama, can hardly be less than two thousand plays twice in every twenty-four hours. Many of them are American: and those that I have seen were condensed, pungent, over-acted, and spun too fast. Now and again, a book is filmed as a play: for example, East Lynne, and Les Misérables. The effect of a filmed book might be very good: for you might get a pleasant sense that you were reading it with moving illustrations. The ordinary theatrical films cannot give you this sense. They are surprisingly clever. Only, the better they are, the more you want to have the real thing: to hear the voices, to see the players themselves. You cannot be properly thrilled by the best of heroines tied to a stake, nor by the worst of villains with a revolver: she is shrieking at the top of her voice–look at the size of her mouth–but where is the shriek? He fires–look at the smoke–but where is the bang? You are mildly excited: but you are not so excited as you ought to be: you know, all the time, that you are not at the play: you are at an optical illusion, looking with more or less interest at a scientific toy.

Give me leave to hammer at this point: for I want to make it clear to you and to myself. First, let us be agreed that a play on the stage is worth a thousand plays on the screen: for it is the real thing: it is real voices, living presences: the interpreters are there, as real as real can be. The artifices and conventions of play-acting do not spoil the reality of the play: it is only unimaginative minds which are baulked by them. A good play, well acted, satisfies and educates something in us which nothing else can reach. Call it the imagination, or the emotions, or whatever you like: the love of a good play is too old and too natural to care what name you give to it. A play on the screen is not real: there are neither voices, nor presences: there is only a moving picture, moving too swiftly to be a good picture of a play. You cannot command, over an optical illusion, the imagination and the emotions which come of themselves over a real play. They refuse to be fooled. Wrong number, they say, and put the receiver back on the hook.

It follows, that the best plays, on the screen, are those which can best afford to lose the advantage of voices and presences, and to be taken for what they are. Wild farce, with lots of conjuring-tricks in it, is the best of all. In pantomime, with a film so faked and speeded-up that fat men run a mile a minute, and cars whirl through space like shooting stars, and all Nature is convulsed, these picture-plays are at their best, joyfully turning the universe upside-down with the flick of a wheel. In the mad rush of impossibilities, there is no time for words, and no need of them. When Charlie Chaplin, for instance, leaned lightly against a huge stone column, and immediately it fell to bits, I did not want him to say anything: no words of his could sober an event so stupendously drunk.

But more ambitious films, which pretend to give us comedy and drama, are less successful. You miss the sound of voices: you miss the presence of the living actors. The poorer the play is, the less you miss them. Thus, you can enjoy, for the few minutes of its existence, a sensational film, a bit of claptrap and swagger: but Heaven forbid that you should enjoy Shakespeare filmed, with scraps of words thrown on the screen at short intervals.

Judge the performance of a moving picture as you judge the performance of a gramophone. Each is a scientific toy: each produces an illusion, the one through our eyes and the other through our ears: and each gets its best results by staying inside its natural limits. Comic sounds, comic songs, swinging band-music with lots of brass and big drum in it, go well on a gramophone. But do you want to hear high-class music on it? Do you want to hear the voice of a dead friend on it? Not you: let it stick to being a gramophone: let it not profane either the music of the Immortals, or the voices of the dead.


The answer comes, that all this talk is tainted with self-conceit. That you and I are superior persons, forgetful of “the masses.” That the picture-palaces enliven the dullness of thousands of stupid little country-towns, and are a safe refuge of entertainment for legions of young men and young women who would have no other meeting-place but the streets. That moving pictures amuse the whole nation, and quicken the mind and widen the outlook and charm the leisure of countless lives more heavily burdened than yours and mine: lives of the hard-driven ill-educated “masses,” who cannot be expected to care for Shakespeare and the National Gallery.

And there is much truth in this answer. Only, it is a one-sided statement. If you could take the opinions of London working-women, with families of young children, just enough wages coming-in to keep a home over their heads, and a flaming picture-palace, with a lot of nasty trash on its programme, just round the corner, you would hear many opinions unfavourable to them rubbishy pictures: many descriptions of the children’s nerves upset by sham horrors, and the children’s pennies wasted on stuff which ought to be labelled Poisonous. The chief business of the palaces is to make money out of us. Where it pays them to give us rubbish, there they give us rubbish: where it pays them to raise a laugh over something disgraceful to us, there they set themselves to be blackguardly.

But praise them for that great gift which they, and they alone, can give to us. Moving pictures of real things, moving pictures of real life–we can never be too thankful for these. It is these, which are the new power come into the world. To watch, on the screen, every moment of the swing of waves and the dash of surf, every fleck of light on a river, every leaf stirring in the wind, is a grand experience: you find yourself watching them with more attention than you bestow on real water and real woods. For, on the screen, you are looking at pure movement, all by itself: you are not distracted by any thought of bathing in that sea, or of going on it: you just watch it, enjoying the mere sight of it moving.

In the display of moving pictures of real things, all the way up from elemental movement to human action, the picture-palace is our good friend: it is servant, by divine appointment, to reality. Moving pictures of living germs of disease, colossally magnified by the adjustment of micro-photography to the making of a film, are the delight of all doctors: moving pictures of wild creatures are the delight of all naturalists: scenes of human life in diverse parts of the world–the crowds in London streets, the crowds in Eastern bazaars, the work and play and habits and customs of the nations–these are the delight of all of us, and will never cease to delight us. For this wealth of visions, this treasury of knowledge, let us be properly grateful.

Only, the higher we go, the more careful we must be to exercise restraint and reverence. It is one thing, to film dumbshow, and another thing, to film real life and real death. Of living men, whom shall we film, and under what conditions, that we may pay sixpence to see them without loss of dignity in them, and without loss of reverence in ourselves? Crowds are not the difficulty: for they are comedy: but we ought to think twice before we film the tragedy of a crowd of people scared or starved. The difficulty is with single figures of great men, or a little group of them, or a multitude of men employed in the business of a great tragedy. Have we any rule, in this matter, to guide us?

During the last few weeks–here is mid-September–we have been made to think over these questions, by the proposal to film the Cabinet, and by the exhibition of the Somme pictures.

The proposal to film the Cabinet was abandoned. The plan was not to film a real Cabinet Council, but to film the Members of the Cabinet, in the Council-room, looking, more or less, as if they were holding a real Council.

Thus, it would have been a picture of real life, but of real life posing for the camera. His Majesty’s Ministers would have put themselves under some of the conditions of acting for a picture-play. This they would have done to please us: they would have shown themselves to us, looking just as they look when they are at work for us. The objection was raised, that the Cabinet would lose dignity: you will find a parallel passage in Shakespeare: and the point for us here is, that the value of a moving picture of a great man is lowered, if he is posing for it. There is no man too great to be filmed, if only he be unconscious of the process, or absolutely indifferent to it: but it is said that the one King who has posed in a group taken for his political advantage is Ferdinand of Bulgaria. Sic oculos, sic ille manus, sic ora ferebat. Much comfort will his people have of this moving picture of him, six months hence.

But the Somme pictures: the official pictures, taken for our Government, of the advance on the Western Front. A moving picture of a little group of great men, behaving as the camera expects them to behave, might deservedly fail to have power over us. But here are legions of men, not under orders from the camera, but employed in a business of tragedy such as the world has never suffered till now: men great, not in the Westminster-Abbey sense of the word, but in the greatness of their purpose, in their unconquerable discipline, their endurance: they go into the presence of Death without looking back, and they come out from it laughing, some of them: you see them treading Fear under their feet, you see Heaven, revealed in their will, flinging itself on the screen. You and I, safe and snug over here, let us receive what they give us, their example.

Be content to see these pictures once: they are too tragic to be taken lightly: but see them, if it be only to understand what the picture-palaces might achieve for your country. That which began as a scientific toy has become a world-power. Certain firms, preferring money to honour, have turned it to vile uses, and have proved themselves to be enemies of the people. But things will mend: they will mend very slowly, but the War will help them to mend: and the picture-palaces will gradually learn to take us seriously, and to play down to us less, and up to us more.

Comments: Stephen Paget (1855-1926) was a British surgeon and essayist. The Cabinet film referred to was an abortive attempt by Cecil Hepworth in 1916 to film the British cabinet as though in session, apparently cancelled after advance notice of the plans caused ridicule in some circles (though Hepworth did successfully film a series of ‘interviews’ with British politicians that same year). The ‘Somme pictures’ refers to the British documentary feature The Battle of the Somme (1916). My thanks to Nick Hiley who first drew this essay to my attention.

Links: Copy of I Sometimes Think at Internet Archive
Copy of ‘Moving Pictures’ essay at Gaslight
Discussion of the essay at The Bioscope

Het verhaal van den provinciaal

Source: Jacobus vann Looy, ‘Het verhaal van den provinciaal’ in De wonderlijke avonturen van Zebedeus, nieuwe bijlagen (Amsterdam: S.L. van Looy, 1925), pp. 149-161, originally published as ‘Nieuwe bijlagen. XXV’, in De Nieuwe Gids (1917) pp. 361-376

Text: In het Phebus-theater,
Waar anders geen geschater
Van luiten heerscht, maar nu een gróot orchest
Spelende was en tevens voor het lest,
Naar ik las in een advertentie,
In een blad uit de residentie,
Provinciale, wel te verstaan,
Ofschoon het mij er heen toch heeft doen gaan,
En alhoewel ik heimelijk bleef hopen
Dat het niet zoo’n vaart zou loopen,
Dat het niet zou zijn als wat
Ik er over gelezen had…
Ik ging om kort te gaan door ‘t drukke avondlicht,
Als of ik ging naar een gewijd gesticht;
En vroeg ter plaatse naar een plaats, een bèste…
‘U komt toch zeker niet om het orchest, è?’
Vroeg mij een gemobiliseerde man;
Het beste is ook het duurste, zult u weten.’
Hij deed een dame glimlachen daar, gezeten
In een soort van tempeltje,
Voor een poortje als een vlieggat met een drempeltje,
Als eene duive, in kraagdons, ja,
Van Venus of van Diana,
Al zat zij er gelijk een fotografiste
In ‘t rooie kamertje en bleek te zijn de caissiste,
En jong genoeg nog om de favouriete
Van een roman te zijn, zelfs nog zonder…
Evenmin als Diana, ‘t woord behelst geen schand’,
Is aan het Fransch ‘têter’ verwant,…
Tout homme a deux pays, le sien et puis la France,
Spreekt ook Englands dichter niet van popkens laten dansen?
Bestaat iets lievers dan wanneer van honger en van dorst,
Zoo’n heel klein menschje nog klokt aan de moederborst?…
Gewis, zij lachte, wis…
‘k Begrijp niet goed wat steeds aan mij te lachen is;
Zooals van ochtend ook de Directeur
Der Hulpbank deed, toen ‘k mij vergist had in de deur,
En heel ‘t lokaal met zijn persoon vervulde,
Een mensch is meer toch dan ‘n bankje van duizend gulden…
Al moog’ geen ridderorde mij de borst bepralen,
En had ik nooit ‘t geluk om mijne graad te halen,
Een ieder heeft zijn weet,
Lachen is wreed.
‘Smaadt de materie niet,’ als laatst de poldergast zei,
Toen hij zijn hand op ‘t zware heiblok lei;
‘Ik wil wel graag een praatje met u maken,
Maar smaadt mij niet de materie, ze kan je zoo leelijk kraken.
In het Phebus-theater,
Als in een grot onder water,
Als in een school of in de kerk
Van een ondergrondsch loopgravenwerk,
In eene pijpenlade
Waar ieder vrij mocht rooken zonder schade,
Zat ik dan
In afwachting van…
Er gloeiden lampen,
Lantarentjes, tegen rampen,
Er was een radertje, ik hoor nog hoe het snort,
En over mij zag ik een blind-wit bord;
Er zaten andren reeds, die hun gezicht toekeerden;
Allen gemobiliseerden,
Allen mij onbekenden,
Gelukkig niet een mij kende;
Er kwamen er nog meer,
Naast mij zeeg een juffrouw op het stoeltje neêr…
Een paartje volgde, een moeder en een zoon;
Van welk geslacht dan ook, ‘t geldt altijd een persoon;
Een heer zei overluid: ‘hij wou bij de kachel zitten,’
Al meer en meerder kwamen samenklitten,
Om zoo te zeggen, in dit hol,
En aldus werd het Phebus-theater zienderoogen vol.
En toen, nog stom,
Triangel kwam, horen schreed aan en trom,
Allen gemobiliseerden,
Een vedel dan een weinig soupireerde,
Want die het hoogste zat, vóor de piano, was
Dezelfde Diana van zoo pas.
Maar de klavierlamp nu ontstak
Haar roode tunica, haar bloese of haar jak.
Eensklaps werd het donker.
De lampjes smeulden als door kolengasgeflonker
En heel de ruimt’ verkeerde tot een klonterig gewemel
Onder den zolderhemel,
En op ‘t bord
Kwam een nattig maanlicht aangestort.
En toen, als eens voor koning Belsasar, verscheen
Schrift en weder verdween
En duister en bevlekt,
Ik zag het bord met schaduwspel bedekt.
Ik kan niet alles ordelijk vertellen,
De tafereelen bleven naar elkaâr toe snellen,
Er schoven landen
Van de een naar de andere rande,
Geheuvelde oorden,
Rivieren glommen tusschen lage boorden,
Ik kon niet immer goed zien wat het was,
Doch altijd wuivelde er wel ergens gras…
Het bord te schrikken leek; het bliksemde er en schudde,
Kolonne-lange kudden
Gemobiliseerden marcheerden door het ruim,
Zonder glorie of pluim
En zonder marketensters,
Zonder te blikken naar vensters,
Ze beenden fel
En groeiden snel…
Ik zag hun hurken gaan en eten gaan uit blikken,
Ik zag de bajonets op de geweren prikken…
Er kwamen telkens woorden op het bord,
In spiegelschrift en dikwijls schoot de laatste zin te kort,
Het leek bijwijlen een gecensureerde brief;
En aldus zag ik al de voorbereidselen van het groote offensief
Aan de Somme…
Al heviger ze roerden de tromme,
De piano, de fluit, de horen,
Het daverde in mijn ooren,
Ze ontwikkelden minder leven nauw
Dan het orchest in het Concert-gebouw;
‘t Geweld ter tonen maakte mij benepen…
‘Maar u hebt nooit van Wagner veel begrepen,
Hij brengt u van de wijs,’
Zooals mevrouw van M… mij zeide te Parijs…
In Parijs, o, toen Wagner daar was en vogue,
En ik bekende dat mijn hart meer naar Beethoven trok,
De negende simfonie…
Eensklaps voelde ik mijn buurvrouws knie,
Zoo beenen zenuwachtig worden voor ze dansen gaan,
Wroetelen tegen de mijne aan,
En weder raasde ‘t leven om mij om
Van de stalen driehoek, ‘t koper en de trom
En van het heet-bestreken snaar-instrument,
Maar toch, die pianiste had beslist talent…
Een heele poos leek alles mij te ontwijken,
Toen zag ik ammunitie als mij aan staan kijken,
Ontzaggelijk en vreemde…
‘De kneuzende oorlogsvracht beploegde Vlaandrens beemden’
Ging mij door het brein, ziende het vervoer,
De logge leger-auto’s horten langs den vloer.
Ik zag de kogels uitgespreid en opgesteld,
Zooals gerooide rapen liggen op het veld;
Ontelbaar, her en der, tot in het ver verschiet,
Als wat in ‘n lang gevoelde behoefte eindelijk voorziet.
Ik zag ze staan en zonder blussen, deuken,
En heb gedacht aan beuken,
Niet aan het werkwoord van dien naam natuurlijk,
In eenen zin figuurlijk,
Die vrouwelijkste boomen in het bosch,
Zoo blank ze waren, elegant en los,
Gebonden en gevlerkt,
Geen damesnagels fijner afgewerkt;
Ik zag ze daar verpakt als flesschen wijn,
In mandjes als om teêre vruchten zijn;
Soms kerkbeeld-hoog en als een spitsboograam,
En vele droegen ‘n naam,
Een naam als bakers voor de kinderen bedenken…
Een Tommie lag er languit bovenop te wenken,
Hij streelde met zijn handen zulk een pracht-granaat;
En nooit zal ik vergeten zijn gelaat,
Het vroolijke, dat mijlen van mij was,
En sneeuwwit was.
Bom! bom!
Kanonnen sjorden aan en stonden stom,
Als steigerende rossen in hun stalen toomen,
Onder het loof van boomen;
Als één stuk zwart metaal;
Machines als nog nooit een industrie gebruikte,
Ze nergens stuikten,
Na goed te zijn gesmeerd.
Het leek wel of zij ‘t hadden uit hun hoofd geleerd…
Ik zag het projectiel erin gedreven,
‘Many happy returns,’ met krijt er op geschreven,
En toen ze schoten zag ik dunne smook,
En schimmen loopen gaan die leken rook,
Voorover, met de vingers in hun ooren…
Hoe vreemd het is daar niet iets van te hooren…
Dan kreeg de dikke loop vanzelf een schok
En gliste weêr terug alsof er een aan trok,
Zoo zoetjes-an,
Si doucement.
En toen verscheen een randje gras met draad behekt,
Een lucht er boven was met wolkjes bedekt,
Het leek een droomerige aquarel,
Van Mauve of Israëls…
Dat al die mooie dingen gaan zoo duur…
Er ijlden door het bord stralen en spetten vuur;
‘t Verbeeldde ‘de overkant’.
En duidelijk was er brand,
Ik kan niet alles melden zoo ik wou,
Het ging zoo gauw.
Ik heb ook mijnen uit elkaâr zien slaan,
Fonteinen modder, als een inkt-vulkaan,
Of bergen sintels werden opgeblazen
Van al de boeken, schriften waar wij over lazen;
En daarna was
Weêr alles grijs als asch.
En hangend aan de gordels van soldaten,
Zag ik de handgranaten,
En in een schans en op een planken vloer,
Aan balen zand geleund, een schim staan op de loer,
Zijn helm blonk bovenuit den rand der terp,
Leek een historisch kunstvoorwerp,
Een omgekeerde kop of een bokaal
Waaruit gedronken werd bij ‘t schimmenmaal,
In het Walhalla,
Der in den krijg gevallen,
Verslagen reuzen,
En dienend om de hersens niet te kneuzen…
Een paard met bollen buik, geloof ik, ik dan zag,
Het was het vierde of het vijfde dat er reed of lag,
En naar twee hondjes heb ik ook gestaard,
Ze tripten naast een fuselier of naast een Gordon-guard.
En in een hut die leek van sneeuw gebouwd,
Werd, meen ik, door Lancasters met ‘n katapult gesjouwd;
Ik zag een bom hen stellen en ze duiken snel,
En weg hij was als de appel van Willem Tell;
Een ‘liebesgabe’ naar het bord vermeldde…
Mortieren zag ik klaar of gaan te velde,
Mitrailleuses, ik weet niet wat het was,
Maar altijd wuivelde er wel ergens gras…
Plots hel het werd;
Ik heb mijn blikken in de zaal toen opgesperd,
Het leek mij of zij waren ingekort,
Of alle menschen zeulden naar het bleeke bord.
Het zien van kleuren schonk wat leniging,
Het was of allen waren in versteeniging,
Een moeder raakte aan den arm haars zoons, bij ongeval,
En dat was al.
De juffrouw zag mij aan… het werd al weder donker,
En boven het geflonker
Der roode jaagster aan de piano,
En boven al de kruinen der gemobiliseerden, o,
Grimde naar het duister van de hal:
‘De aanval.’
En de jacht
Van de gelijke schimmen reed weêr door den nacht,
Ze spookten op het roeren onzer trom,
Bom-bom, bom-bom!
Uit hoeken en gaten,
Met glad-geschoren gelaten,
Door rattengangen, een voor een,
Verdekt ze slopen door de maan die scheen,
Naar de verzamelplaatse, zoo
De varkens in fabrieken gaan te Chicago:
‘k Hoorde in de verte: ‘Tipperary!’
Joelen uit veel bombarie,
En zag ze samen in paradedos,
Ze maakten hier wat vast, ze maakten daar wat los,
Er was er eentje bij
Die groette mij.
Ik zag hen in gelederen en rijen,
Gegroept, gescheien,
En voor een priester op de knie gevallen,
Ik zag de geultjes in hun halzen alle;
De evangeliedienaar had een wit hemd aan,
Zoo blank en zuiver als de volle maan;
En ‘k zag hen uit hun korrelige slooten springen,
En over gruis en stronken voorwaarts dringen,
Er viel er een neêr als een leêge jas,
En verder nog een waar nog woei wat gras…
Ik kon het niet ontwijken…
Ik was gekomen hier toch om te kijken…
Het was voorbij…
Plots spraken er twee heeren achter mij,
De een zei: ‘t was kemedie, dat ‘t hem tegenviel,
Dat ‘t hem tegenviel,
En de andre hooren deed:
‘Och, alle waar is naar zijn geld, je weet.’
Ik keek niet om en heb me stijf gehouden,
Uit vreeze dat zij mij misschien herkennen zouden;
Doch weder was er de aandacht uit mij henen…
Een overwonnen krater was op ‘t bord verschenen,
Eén stond er midden in, hij ging er gansch in schuil,
Gelijk een mierenleeuw, verzonken in zijn kuil.
Ik had door al die tusschenwerpsels wat gemist,
Vast en beslist,
Er woei niet langer gras,
De gronden leken van verbrijzeld glas,
Of rullige akkers vol geschilde rapen;
Er doolden een paar schimmen om van knapen,
Padvinders, zoekende herinneringen op…
En ‘k zag een open hut aan de uitgang van een slop,
Een tunnel, en de vedel was gaan klagen…
Ze droegen zwarte staven aan waarop gestalten lagen;
De ruimte van het bord
Was veel te kort.
De dragers met de kruisen op hun mouw,
Aanbukten reuzengroot en blinkend weg in ‘t nauw,
Lieten de baren blijven.
Ik kan het niet beschrijven,
‘t Was alles afgekeerd en dichtgemaakt…
Een beeld zat in de hut tot aan zijn gordel naakt.
Zijn arm hing naar mij toe, de hand geheel beklad,
Er leek een volle inktpot over uit gespat,
Hoog op zijn bovenarm was ook ‘n donkre smet,
De witte dokter boog er naar en heeft gebet,
Gewindseld dan en met een rappen stoot,
Den mond des mans een sigaret hij bood;
De Tommie keek zijn arm langs, ademhaalde rook…
‘Hoe goed geholpen zij worden’, had ‘k gelezen ook,
Maar achter mij sprak weêr de knorge stem:
Dat ‘t tegenviel hem;
En de andre ontevreeën:
‘Dat je je geld wel beter kon besteeën.’
Wij hebben de uitgeputte krijgers ook terug zien komen,
Een wapenschouw ik zag, hen neêrgevlijd in drommen,
Hun rust genietende,
Plassend, water vergietende;
Ze wreven wapens schoon en keken soms mij aan:
‘’s Wounds, ‘t gaat daar jullie geen van allen aan.’
En op dezelfde wijs ik zag die languit lagen,
Met zware spijkerlaarzen werden aangedragen;
En ‘k heb aan gras gedacht;
Ver in het spikkelig licht ze delfden ‘n gracht;
‘Dat is een lange,’ zei mijn buurmans mond,
Toen alles op het trillend bord verzwond…
Ik wilde henengaan, doch ‘t was niet uit;
Wij kregen nog ‘de buit’.
Al de verwonnen
Allerlei zonderlinge
Geweldige keukendingen,
Ze lagen overhoop
Zoo op de Maandagmarkt de rommel ligt te koop…
En ‘k zag ‘de levende buit’,
Kluit ik zag na kluit,
Als mijnvolk uit hun schachten opgekomen;
De ontwapende, gevangen genomen
Hol-schonkige Duitschers;
Ze hieven handen, als afwerpend kluisters,
Al op en neêr in ‘t gaan,
Of trokken er touwtjes aan;
Klemden ze voor hun oogen;
In de schoeren gebogen,
Van-af de borst bedropen,
De lippen hangend open,
En met den blik aan ‘t loenen
Of wijd naar visioenen.
Ze vonden wel hun weg daar door de bermen,
De duizelende zwermen,
De spookge horden,
Versloofd, verworden,
Zonder vertoon van militair
En zonder eenig air;
Schimmen van schaterlachers, hikkende,
Met schel-witte verbanden
Om het gemillimeterd brein en dikwijls om hun handen;
Er stapte er een op één been,
Omhelzend twee gezwachtelden, hij hinkte heen.
Ik kon het schier niet zien, het struntelen en douwen…
Van die ‘feldgrauen’,
Het deinzen en het dollen,
Ze leken van het witte bord te rollen;
Ik zag er een stooten, bij ongeluk,
Tegen een reine Tommie, met een ruk,
Schokte zijn lijf opzij, hij blikte net
Of hij de punt gevoeld had van een bajonet…
Er schoten telkens schichten
Den warrel door der wiebelende gezichten:
De vuurge scheuten in het bord,
Als met tranen overstort.
Tranen van Tommies en grauwen,
Tranen van mannen en vrouwen,
Tranen van bruiden, moeders,
Tranen van weezen, voeders,
Van hongerige armen,
En tranen van erbarmen…
Ik heb mij goed gehouden,
Geveinsd, dat niemand iets bespeuren zoude…
Er waren witte wolkjes komen zweven,
Als die der ‘plumpuddings’ en andere granaten zooeven.
Ze boden sigaretten, hadden zich verzoend;
En toen was ‘t bord weêr blank, als plotseling afgeboend.
De zaal ontsteeg gerucht…
Ik voelde me opgelucht…
De damp van de sigaren
Verzweefde naar het licht der tooverlantaren,
Een ellenlange pluim
Die kringelblauwend schuin schoof door het ruim.
En ‘k heb gewacht…
En heb gedacht…
Het raadje snorde steeds zijn maniakke wijs,
En schoon het warm was, was ik koud als ijs…
Schimmen van stokken, stronken,
Van kluiten, brokken, bonken,
Ze bleven op het bord als aan een keten gaan,
Gelijk een menschenledig landschap op de maan…

De maan blonk aan de lucht, hoog boven alles uit,
De straat in donker door ‘t gemeenteraad-besluit,
Van lichtbesparing om de groote kolennood,
Deed me weldadig aan, het stemde me, ik genoot
Door die afwezigheid van overdaad en tinkels,
En ‘t aangegaapt te zijn door opgeschoten kinkels.
Het was nog steeds in mij, alsof in mij wat sliep,
Alsof ik binnen in een levend wezen liep,
En zag de donker-gloênde wandlaars gaan en komen,
Zooals in aderen de bloed-lichaampjes stroomen;
Het was nog steeds in mij of ik niet wakker was,
Of wat ‘k gezien het leven, dit een droom slechts was;
De toren in de diepten van den manehemel stak,
En stille, zachte waden dekten huis en dak,
En in de heimelijke schemering der straat,
De lijven bleven gaan met hun befloersd gelaat.
Tot eindelijk weder sprak in mij herinnering,
Het snorren van een raadje uit mij zelf ontging;
En ‘k langs de toeë winkels loopend verder trad,
Al mijmerzieker door de vreemde stilt’ der stad.
Ik voelde rond mij om de warmte weêr als weelde,
En overdacht de waarde dezer oorlogsbeelden,
Wat ‘k had gelezen in verslagen eener krant,
Om waar- en eerlijkheid, verheldering van verstand,
Het algemeen, groot nut van deze levende platen,
Omdat zij niets aan de verbeelding overlaten.
Ik dacht aan België, dat voor de Vrijheid vecht,
Aan nooit te delgen schuld van het geschonden Recht,
En werd al wandeldenkende weêr welgemoed,
Wijl ‘t bij ons Vreê nog is, tot dusver, alles goed.

Doch in den nacht daarop ik droomde droef,
Dat ‘k eigenhandig in een tuin een mensch begroef,
Tusschen het wuivelende gras,
En ik was
Die doode zelf;
Hij lag te staren naar het luchtgewelf
Met rond verwijde oogen:
En door den hooge
Het snorde rusteloos en heeft gewaaid,
Of werd een eindelooze film afgedraaid:
Van Donau’s, Marne’s, Aisne’s en van Yzers,
Van diplomaten, en magnaten en van keizers…
En die begroef mij deed het smart noch pijn…
Ongeloofelijke menschen wij zijn.

Comments: Jacobus van Looy (1855-1930) was a Dutch painter and writer. His 1916 poem ”Het verhaal van den provinciaal’ (‘The tale of the provincial’) tells of a man visiting a city and going to the cinema, whose conflicted views on the war and being in a cinema are revealed through the long poem’s stream of consciousness style. It is only gradually made apparent that it is the British documentary film The Battle of the Somme that he is watching. Geert Bulens (see link below) provides an analysis of poem’s themes. Practical elements referred to include projection, intertitles, and the accompanying music. Van Looy lived in Haarlem, but no cinema named Phebus-Theater is listed on the historical database of Dutch cinema, Cinema Context, in Haarlem or elsewhere. The Netherlands was neutral during the First World War. I can find no full English translation of the poem, but the penultimate stanza was translated (by Klaas de Zwaan) for my silent film blog, The Bioscope, as follows:

I felt the comforting warmth surrounding me again,
And thought over the value of these images of war,
What I’ve read in the reports of some newspapers,
About truth and honesty, clarification of the mind,
The overall, great usefulness of these living pictures,
Because they leave nothing to the imagination.
I thought of Belgium, fighting for Freedom,
An irredeemable infringement of Justice,
And while walking I pleasantly realized
Peace was among us, so far so good.

Links: Dutch text in copy of De wonderlijke avonturen van Zebedeus in DBNL (Digital Library for Dutch Literature)
Geert Buelens, ‘Sound and Realism in British and Dutch Poems Mediating The Battle of the Somme’, Journal of Dutch Literature, vol. 1 no. 1, December 2010 (includes discussion of the poem, in English)


Source: Louis Couperus, ‘Bioscoop’, Haagsche Post, 2 December 1916, English translation by Ivo Blom in ‘North and South: two early texts about cinema-going by Louis Couperus’, Film History vol. 20, issue 2 (2008), pp. 127-132

Text: The contrast between North and South manifests itself in many different ways. At the Bioscoop, too. First of all, in the South the Bioscoop is called Cinematografo in Italy or Cine in Spain. Well, this difference is negligible. But in both southern countries the difference is great as compared with cinema in Germany and the Netherlands. As soon as we go North, the cinema becomes something of a theater, becomes pretentiously heavy. You are received by employees in braided frocks, your coat and stick are taken from you, you are allocated a certain, fixed seat, you are not allowed to stand up, you notice everyone around you in the shimmering darkness in their seats for hours, there is an intermission … Nothing of all this in Italy or Spain. Not only is the cinematografo or the cine much cheaper than the bioscoop, but the whole interior is more light-hearted, comfortable, accommodating. The illuminated foyer which you can see from the street is inviting, with a salon orchestra (albeit not very attractive to me personally), and a reading table. To enter when it rains, when I don’t want to go to a bar, when I have paraded around enough, when I am tired, bored … I pay 30 centimes and whenever I want to look rich, 50 centimes. I cannot go above that, unless for a world famous film such as Quo Vadis? Even for 50 centimes – both in Italy and Spain – my seat is too chic, so terribly chic, that I prefer to pay 30 centimes … Around me are casual, very decent people, so decent that if I want to see the less decent, I need to descend into places where I pay only 20 or 15 or 10 centimes. I see the same films, but … one week later. But everywhere the experience is light and capricious, an ephemeral joy, while in the North cinema has shut itself inside an impenetrable shell. Really, when I walk into a cinema I want to do it in a light-hearted and casual way. I’ll stand up for a quarter of an hour if necessary, just to see Max Linder or a scene of the war, and then leave again. Dear heavens, you really notice when you are in the North, as soon as you are away from Italy: in Munich or … The Hague. There is no question of standing up; everything is so solemn and heavy, that your first casual impulse to see a film is immediately crushed. In Italy I saw the whole war in Tripoli screened before me, surrounded by a decent officer-with-family audience, without reserving seats and always for 30 centimes each day. Here, I am hesitant to go and see The Battle of the Somme because I don’t want to reserve a seat. I want to keep my coat on, even keep my wet umbrella with me; I’d rather stand than sit; in particular I don’t want to turn my cinema joy into a solemn visit; rather I desire an unpretentious, casual ‘walking in’, a passing pleasure, which should not last more than twenty minutes at the most.

Oh North and South, not even in the bioscoop and cinematograph do you have anything in common.

But now the analysis. Why is it so different in the North and the South? Because of the heavy soul of the Northerners? Of course, but also because ‘street life’ does not exist in the North and because in the South ‘walking into a cinema’ is a part of everyday life. Just as in the North it is not allowed in a lunchroom bar to toss off a little glass of vermouth standing up, so it is not normal to consider the cinema as a short halt in your flanerie, as a shelter from the rain, as a short, oh, so short, distraction from the melancholy which can so affect the flaneur when he is lonely, wandering among the busy crowd. And so he longs for Max Linder or Charles Prince; yes, even some lively pictures of actuality, whose photographic ugliness, teasing and screeching, scratch the silently suffering soul of the purposeless street wanderer when the winter twilight hour nears, when the shopping lights and street lanterns are starting to flame and the pain of wistfulness hurts him, without really knowing why …

It is then that you lose yourself – not in a bar where the electric light shines mercilessly – and where you need to drink something; it is then that you lose yourself, in the South, in the cinematograph, where you can watch pictures as if still on your mother’s lap.

Comments: Louis Couperus (1863-1923) was a Dutch novelist and poet and is considered one of the leading figures in Dutch literature. He wrote about films in his regular ‘Bioscoop’ column for the Dutch newspaper Haagsche Post. The films referred to are Quo Vadis? (Italy 1913) and The Battle of the Somme (UK 1916). Max Linder and Charles Prince were French film comedians, the latter known on-screen as Rigadin. Bioscoop is the Dutch word for a cinema building, taken from the English word Bioscope. My thanks to Ivo Blom for his permission to reproduce his translation, and to Deac Rossell for alerting me to the Film History article. Ellipses are as given in the Film History translation.

The Story of the "9th King's" in France

Source: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts, The Story of the “9th King’s” in France (Liverpool: The Northern Publishing Co., 1922), p. 56

Text: On the 9th there was a big attack by the British. The 16th Division attacked on the right in front of Delville Wood, and the 1st Division on the left, and consequently the Battalion was in the very centre of the fight. The garrisons of the strong points being cut off as they were, did not receive news of the attack. Suddenly in the afternoon after a comparatively quiet morning the artillery on both sides became very active, both the British and German artillery developing intense barrages. To the men in the strong points this presaged an enemy attack, and the order was given to be ready to fire the moment the enemy should come into view. The members of these small garrisons knew there would be no hope for them, as they would soon have been surrounded and annihilated, and most probably all of them bayoneted. Fortunately the attack was by the British and these eventualities did not arise. The Battalion was relieved during the next two days and went into reserve at Buire-sur-Ancre. After a few days here it moved to a bivouac area at E. 15 a., outside Dernancourt. Though this was some considerable distance behind the front line the enemy forced the Battalion to evacuate this area by firing at it with a long-ranged gun. In the evening there was a cinema show in the open, at which were shown pictures of the Somme Battle. It was very strange to see the soldiers keenly interested in the pictures of what shell fire was like when there were actual shells falling about half a mile away, and they had been shelled out of their camp that very afternoon. The British Army had made a successful attack on the 15th September, and on the 17th the Battalion went into line again at Flers, where two miserable days were spent in an incessant downpour of rain and very heavy shell fire. On relief it came back to the transport lines at Pommier Redoubt.

Comments: Enos Herbert Glynne Roberts was a captain with the King’s (Liverpool Regiment) Territorial Force, and his book documents the regiment’s experiences during the First World War. The date of the passage is 9 September 1916. The Battle of the Somme took place 1 July to 18 November 1916. The documentary film The Battle of the Somme, made by the British Topical Committee for War Films, was first shown in British cinemas on 21 August 1916, so it is presumably this film that the troops saw while they were still taking part in the conflict.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg

The War Films

Source: Sir Henry Newbolt, ‘The War Films’, The Times [London], 14 October 1916, p. 7

Text: O living pictures of the dead,
O songs without a sound,
O fellowship whose phantom tread
Hallows a phantom ground —
How in a gleam have these revealed
The faith we had not found.

We have sought God in a cloudy Heaven,
We have passed by God on earth:
His seven sins and his sorrows seven,
His wayworn mood and mirth,
Like a ragged cloak have hid from us
The secret of his birth.

Brother of men, when now I see
The lads go forth in line,
Thou knowest my heart is hungry in me
As for thy bread and wine;
Thou knowest my heart is bowed in me
To take their death for mine.

Comment: Henry Newbolt (1862-1938) was a British poet. This poem was written in response to seeing The Battle of the Somme (1916), the British official war documentary photographed by Geoffrey Malins and J.B. MacDowell, whose images of the Western Front had a profound impact upon British audiences.

The War Films

Source: Sir Henry Newbolt, ‘The War Films’, The Times [London], 14 October 1916, p. 7

Text: O living pictures of the dead,
O songs without a sound,
O fellowship whose phantom tread
Hallows a phantom ground —
How in a gleam have these revealed
The faith we had not found.

We have sought God in a cloudy Heaven,
We have passed by God on earth:
His seven sins and his sorrows seven,
His wayworn mood and mirth,
Like a ragged cloak have hid from us
The secret of his birth.

Brother of men, when now I see
The lads go forth in line,
Thou knowest my heart is hungry in me
As for thy bread and wine;
Thou knowest my heart is bowed in me
To take their death for mine.

Comment: Henry Newbolt (1862-1938) was a British poet. This poem was written in response to seeing The Battle of the Somme (1916), the British official war documentary photographed by Geoffrey Malins and J.B. MacDowell, whose images of the Western Front had a profound impact upon British audiences.

The Private Diaries of Sir Henry Rider Haggard

Source: D.S. Higgins (ed.), The Private Diaries of Sir Henry Rider Haggard 1914-1925 (London: Cassell, 1980), p. 84

Text: 27th September 1916
Today I went to see the Somme War film with Louie, Angie and Mrs Jebb who dined with me afterwards at an Italian restaurant in Panton Street where we got a very good and well-cooked meal at a most reasonable price. The film is not a cheerful sight, but it does give a wonderful idea of the fighting and the front, especially of the shelling and its effects. Also it shows the marvellous courage and cheerfulness of our soldiers in every emergency, and causes one to wonder if one would find as much in a like case. At their age I have no doubt the answer would be yes, but now at sixty I am not so sure. It is a young man’s job! As usual all the pictures move too fast, even the wounded seem to fly along. The most impressive of them to my mind is that of a regiment scrambling out of a trench to charge and of the one man who slides back shot dead. There is something appalling about the instantaneous change from fierce activity to supine death. Indeed the whole horrible business is appalling. War has always been dreadful, but never, I suppose, more dreadful than today.

Comment: Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) was a British novelist, who had a strong interest in cinema following the film adaptations of his popular novels such as She and The Lost World. The Battle of the Somme (1916) was a British feature-length documentary, filmed by Geoffrey Malins and J.B. McDowell for the War Office Cinematograph Committee. It gave cinema audiences some idea of what the fighting was like on the Western front and had a huge impact. The over-the-top sequence described by Haggard is now known to have been faked by Malins.