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REAL WAR PICTURES.
BATTLE OF THE SOMME.
An Epic and Moving Record.
To most people on this side of the world, who know the battle of the Somme only through the cable news, the great struggle is more or less an abstract idea. But those who were privileged to see the official films of the "big push," taken by permission of the British War Office, and shown for the first time in Australia at Hoyts Picture Theatre yesterday, have seen more of the greatest battle yet fought on the western front than all but a very few of those who took part in it. We have had 'faked' war pictures enough in the past, but this is the real thing. There were many re- turned soldiers amongst the audience, and they agreed that the scenes shown were an absolutely genuine presentment of things
right at the front.
Among those present were the State commandant (Brigadier-General Williams), the band, and 250 of other ranks mostly returned soldiers, from the Royal Park camp, under Major Elbing, D.S.O., and the camp adjutant (Captain Kean). The State commandant and the other officers were agreed in laying em- phasis on the absolute reality and truth to life of the pictures shown. The audience generally followed the unrolling of the
battle epic with rapt attention throughout.
Some of the scenes, indeed-for instance, the burial of those who have fallen on the field of battle-were too grim and tragic for the nerves of the more sensitive spec- tators. But they serve to bring home to all who see them, as nothing else could, what war really is. Stage battles, even with the finest stage management, are pale and thin beside this moving reality of
The film opens with the preparations for the great advance, and shows a division waiting to move forward. Then come the regiments moving up to the front on the night before the great attack. There was an irrepressible burst of applause when the lines of men swung forward, cheerful, smiling, and joking, though they knew that many of them would look but once more on the light of day.
Other pictures show the vast supplies of shells and explosives being piled up in the ammunition "dumps" for the big guns. There is a magnificent series of studies of the big guns themselves pounding the Ger- man lines to make way for the advance. Monstrous howitzers, with their vast muzzles pointing to heaven, vomit forth their huge shells, smaller pieces firing rapidly from hidden emplacements look like venomous black snakes striking and recoiling. "Plum puddings" are hurled forth from trench mortars and guns of every shape and size join in the inferno. Then the scene shifts to the German trenches, and the spectator sees their de- struction. "Cauliflower" clouds of smoke, dust, and debris rise in appalling bouquets and here and there huge black geysers of earth rise straight up towards the sky. Over all, shrapnel bursts in innocent and peaceful looking little clouds. More than ever one realises how wonderful it is that men can live and endure under modern artillery fire.
And by way of contrast to all the din and horror of war, a little scene shows the hard-working French peasants toiling in their little fields on the edge of the battle zone. War or no war, men must eat, and
the fields must be cultivated.
Then comes the attack, and we see a section of the 16-mile front with the British soldiers leaping over the parapets of the trenches to cross the deadly zone of "No Man's Land." Two fall back, never to rise again, under your very eyes, and for the first time the civilian sees war as it really is.
From now on you are not in a Melbourne picture theatre, but in the very forefront
of the Somme battle. You see British soldiers rescue a comrade under shell fire. The stretcher seems almost to brush you as he is borne in, and you see from his face that the hand of death is on him; in fact, he died 30 minutes after he reached the trenches. The wounded come in m streams, carried on the backs of comrades, borne in stretchers, or wheeled in on little conveyances. You see first aid being given to them at Minden Post, with the front- line trenches just over the crest of the hill only 200 yards away,
There are German wounded, too, and pre- sently the German prisoners come pouring in. Friend and foe hobble along arm in arm, helping each other to the dressing station. For the most part the Germans are big, strapping fellows, but their awful ordeal
has been almost more than human nature can bear, and in many cases their nerves have given way under the continual artil-
lery fire. Some still hold up their hands in token of surrender, some gibber in ter- ror, and on the faces of many is the blank stare of men utterly astounded and almost dehumanised. Of some you feel inclined to say, as men said of Dante as he walked the streets of Florence, "There goes a man who has seen hell." But the British soldiers, though shaken themselves by what they have gone through, can laugh and joke, even when wounded and "strafe" the pri- soners-with cigarettes.
Pictures follow which show the grimmest side of war. You see the German dead lying in queer, crumpled heaps on the field of battle, the dead huddled in a trench, our own dead, lying where they fell during the charge, and men of the "Middlesex Regiment burying their shattered enemies. Saddest,
perhaps, of all is the picture of the pet dog of the Manchester Regiment and his master lying dead together, the poor dumb brute faithful to the bitter end.
Last scene of all shows the men of the Worcester Regiment clear-eyed and reso- lute as ever, marching forward for the next step in the advance.
The Battle of the "Somme" will be shown at Hoyt's for one week only, beginning with a matinee to-day.
'"This series of pictures certainly gives a very clear idea of what our troops have been doing on the Somme front, what they are doing, and enables us to form an idea of what they have still to do," said the State commandant (Brigadier-General Williams) last night. The pictures are distinctly educative, and they are deeply interesting. Personally, I think one or two of the scenes are rather gruesome, and might be omitted without in any way interfering with the de- velopment of the great central theme. The way in which the pictures have been taken and produced is beyond all praise; it is a
very remarkable achievement."