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Ideas on putting the First World War on Film

1) iTunes U. 45-90 seconds “It could have been you …”


Putting you In the picture – my great-grandfather – in his shoes.

Duration: 45-90 seconds.

Use motion capture to place four or five men of the appropriate age into the ‘Battle of the Somme’ footage.

Pre-shoot, or, with permissions, from ticket holders, ideally for the event, picking this/these people out on the ‘KissCam’ ala Baseball USA.

Point: ‘A hundred years ago it would have been you in there’.

A 15-32 year old put in the picture, literally.

For example:

Satisfying the brief:

Suitable for cinemas and music festivals

Secondary audience: 16 to 24

Motivation to investigate further.

Enjoyment and inspiration for history and its contemporary relevance.

DOES NOT – give causes and conseuquences, nor the course.


1/2/3) 45-90 seconds, x12 one minute, 10-15 minutes

A set of 12 ‘The history of the First World War in One Minute’ Then cover causes, course, consequences, challenge myths with moment for enjoyment, appreciation and reflection.


Parts to include:


  1. Putting you in the picture

  2. In their footsteps

  3. Might have been you 100 years ago

  4. Before – preparations

  5. During

  6. After – prisoners and the aftermath

  7. The ambulance service

  8. Who else: French, Commonwealth, Germans, Nurses (Women).

  9. Animals in war

  10. What else is missing – actual combat and night time movement and action

  11. Myths

  12. Relevance


Meeting the brief


Primary and Secondary audience

Covers deeper understanding of the causes, course and consequence.

Challenges myths about the era.

Reflect on reonance and significance of their current lives and the world around them.

Find enjoyment and inspiration for history and its contemporary relevance

Aware of the IWM as the main lead.

1-2)  iTunes U. 45-90 seconds /< 3 Mins Song – ‘One in a Million’


As Schindler’s List  (1993) pick out occasional characters in colour and tell their story before, during and after 1916.

Duration: 10-15 minutes picking out 3-5 stories of plausible, if not actual recognition.

As Schindler’s list but adding through motion capture people from the 21st century …  your brother, your father … also like a single poppy in a field of wheat.

< 3mins as part of BBC Places.

The relatives or one or two of the identifiable people from the Battle of the Somme footage.

Satisfying the brief:

Suitable for cinemas and music festivals (extended version in break-out venues)

Primary audience: Independent adults 25 to 40.

Motivation to investigate further.

Enjoyment and inspiration for history and its contemporary relevance.

Course of the First World War on the Western Front using the Battle of the Somme as some kind of ‘tipping point’ or key event.

DOES NOT – cover causes and consequences which would require extended coverage before and after the footage unless part of x12 one minutes.


2) < 3 Mins Song: “It could have been you …”


Duration: 3 mins. Longer if pre-shot and edited.

Pop Video using a variety of techniques to put a contemporary audience into the picture.

Place barriers and other obstacles at an outdoors musical festival so that a crowd moves and behaves as footage, intercut.

End line. In their shoes, in your shoes … when a generation went to war. Your kid brother, your father.


For example, shots of:

  • Marching

  • Eating

  • Resting

Satisfying the brief:

Suitable for cinemas and music festivals (extended version in break-out venues)

Primary audience: Independent adults 25 to 40 … pick the right festival, there’s classical music events too.

Motivation to investigate further.

2) < 3 Mins Song / Music Video – not ‘two tribes go to war’

A singer songwriter moved by this exposure and experience and the song that results. Anachronisms of rock in history – think Baz Lurman and ‘Romeo & Juliet’ or ‘Moulin Rouge’ with the songs of Elton John.


A ballad, or anthem. May be ante-war, would be controversial, could get huge views.


Metallica have had nearly 64 million views and the comments run to over 63,000 since they posted ‘One’ on YouTube on 9th May 2009.


Satisfying the brief:

Suitable for cinemas and music festivals

Secondary audience: 16 to 24

Motivation to investigate further.

Enjoyment and inspiration for history and its contemporary relevance.

3) 10 – 15 minutes.

Three to Five ‘Places’ news reports.

People with a relationship to this footage.

Release as an Open Educational Resource (OER). Include sound effects track.


Expect copyright infringements with mash-ups.

See ‘My Boy, Jack’ and the YouTube Harry Patch mash-up. Possibly watermark or box the content somehow. Probably impossible.

Invite a billion people, of whom a few hundred, or a few thousand, will do something of their own with the content, for classes, but also set to music or to make a statement.

Expect controversy, debate and significant activity online and in the regular press.

Satisfying the brief:

Suitable for cinemas and music festivals and live screen venues

Any of the ‘your story’ or ‘in their shoes’ pieces as 1-3 minutes duration, as single items or a compilation. Mix in live (or as live) interviess from the venue. What do you think?

Primary and Secondary audience

Motivation to investigate further.

Enjoyment and inspiration for history and its contemporary relevance.

Offered as a set of 3 minute reports so that promoters can play them as they see fit.


4) TV Documentary  < 45 minutes


Two to three part special:


i) “The bigger picture”.


Duration: 45 mins (first of two parts)

Drama reconstruction with the footage, actors in key roles,

possibly interviwed as if it were 1916.


May include archive voice over from veterans.


What’s going on around the cinematographer? Put them in context.

Becomes the one in a series on ‘shooting war’ – the opportunity afforded by the technology and skills of the personnel, then what to put in or leave out and the politicization of war footage.


Satisfying the brief:

Less suitable for cinemas, at music festivals in break-out venues. Series offered to show on at different times.


Secondary audience: 16 to 24

Motivation to investigate further.

Enjoyment and inspiration for history and its contemporary relevance.

Covers causes, curse and consequences of war.

Likely to require additional material.


4) TV Documentary  < 45 minutes


Two to three, even a six part special

ii) Audience Response


Duration; 45 minutes (Part two of two). Drama resconstruction picking three to five people, say mother and daughter, son and younger brother … some of the 20 million who saw the film. Putting it in context, their story, circumstances and response. Not least to dead combatants, especially to recognition.  May use a cinema from the period with actors, re-enactors and the public.


(or one of two programmes, ‘the bigger picture’ then the audience story.


In 1916, audience of non-combatants and future recruits having queued, then the impact of the footage and how it would make them feel – horrified, in the picture, worried, brutalised, heart broken, determined … and impact on recruitment into army, ambulance, nursing and other services.

4) TV Documentary < 45 mins

iii) The history of shooting war.



From the Crimea to Syria via the Somme.

What price authenticity?

What to show and what to leave out?

Risk to life and limb.

Why does Ypres look less authentic?

We know it is faked and the ‘acting’ is worse than the gurning in ‘the Somme’.

Hexacopter drones with a GoPro cam on a gimbal.

Shooting HD via remote control. POV cams on helmets and drones.

Authenticity over narrative (myth, legend). History over fiction.

UK Forces Afghanistan


Further parts:


  1. The ambulance service

  2. Preparations

  3. Prisoners and the aftermath

  4. Who’s missing: French, Commonwealth, Germans, Nurses (Women).

  5. Animals in war

  6. What’s missing – actual combat and night time movement and action

5) TV Event: A hundred and one questions for the 100th anniversary.


Duration: 45-90 minutes. A live TV special or well prompted online event hosted by the IWM as a webcast/seminar.

Shown as reels or excerpts with opportunities to take questions from the panel, floor and Twitter feed.

Draw in questions posed in real time from Twitter @WW1 fast paced, unpredictable, controversial.  As excerpts and stills. Link to IWM social media campaign.

Where are the French? Where are the women? Where are the dead? Where is the battle? These are rushes, not a narrative.


Satisfying the brief:

Suitable for cinemas and live screen venues – as an event piece screened at venues to interested audiences with opportunities to tie local and regional links and associations with the national story.


Primary and Secondary audience


Covers causes, course and consequence.

Challenges myths about the era.

Find enjoyment and inspiration for history and its contemporary relevance.

5) < 75 minutes


100th Anniversary Release


Sound additions. If the filmmakers had recorded sound what would they have heard?

In fact, fill the blanks, actual battle, with BBC Radio drama standard SFX to ‘create a picture’. Even present ‘The Somme’ as a Radio programme or drama. Re-release the enhanced 2006 Battle of Somme Film with superior sound effects.


Potentially available on a Creative Commons License as an Open Education Resource – like given people access to a National Park, rather than them only being allowed to look over the fence.


Add a Rock track, just as for the 90th there is a classical rendition.

5) Comprehensive TV Event Series

‘A century of conflict coverage’  – BBC, Open University and IWM joint production


Duration: Six x 45 minutes. A series on the history of War Coverage from the Crimea to Syria

Gripping TV documentary, live event and Q&A, OpenLearn content, OU/IWM product, OU and other courses with support for GCSE, A’Level, Undergraduate and Graduate study. As 50th Anniversary ‘The Great War’ with Michael Redgrave brought into the 21st century.

  • Trailed using much of what has already been considered.

  • Short clips for Social Media

  • Long length for OER and YouTube

  • Series of compelling documentaries

  • Debate forming a live debate

  • Follow up with release of Battle of the Somme footage with sound effects track

  • Open Learn modules

  • Actual undergraduate and graduate courses

  • Actual resources for school students – possibly tied in to the national curriculum.


9) Feature Length Movie or TV Film of the characters who took the film



Malins and McDowell … or just Malins.


A 90 minute TV movie as:

Birdsong (2012) Sebastian Faulks

Regeneration (1997) Pat Barker – influence her to take an interest in these characters as a novel, then see that the BBC buy the rights and make it into a TV movie.


Including audience, press and official response.

What else …


Connected world.


“Blended’ – mixed or multi-media, cross platform, live or pre-recorded, discussed and shared online.


Links potentially with:


Help for Heroes

Western Front Association

Scout Movement


History departments of universities

International broadcasters and partners



The Pity of War: Mindmap for a Book Review


Fig.1 SimpleMind Mindmap based on Niall Ferguson’s ‘The Pity of War’

I’ve now read ‘The Pity of War’ twice in a row. As I’ve gone through it I’ve highlighted passages and added notes
and tabs in Kindle. I also grabbed a few highlighted passages and put them into the iPad App ‘Studio’ to annotate and took slides from a
presentation on how to prepare a book review by Dr Pete Gray of the University of Birmingham and annotated these too.

On the second reading I created the SimpleMinds mindmap above.

This ought to be my starting point for a solid 1,000 word book review.

Further reading in the from of Books and papers of interest have been picked up along the way too.

Those to find in a university library, those acquired secondhand through Amazon or uploaded as eBooks in Kindle and papers I can find as a postgraduate student online, either through the Open University or the University of Birmingham (I am a postgraduate student at both). There are various ways I can offer the above, though the best is to download the FREE version of SimpleMinds and read it that way.

Offered with a view to sharing the views of others.

I can export it into a word file and develop the categories I already have as separate themes:

Insightful (in yellow) has some 52 notes, most referenced by Kindle Link (KL).

Do I buy the print version or go to the library and cross-reference?

Descriptors: meticulous, original, weighty, highly referenced, all sides, high brow, thoroughly researched, well read … often
intricate, taking us to detail researched by others? NOT, as he says in the introduction, a textbook or a narrative of the war.

No Trivia – nor the chronology if the war, nor countless aggregated memories of veterans, though there is a bit of poetry and some
mention of movies and TV films from ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ to ‘Birdsong’, ‘Gallipoli’, ‘Blackadder goes forth’ and
‘Ghost Road’ Bias – I wonder about this in relation to where Niall Ferguson – that he relishes a dig on the landed gentry and public
school system, their types, behaviours and hobbies, from leadership to country sports.

Debunking myths: the desire for war, the Germans to blame, the Russians to blame, militarism, German economic efficiency, not donkeys, the AEF didn’t win the war and blundered in making the mistakes of 1914, naval supremacy and ambivalence to war.

The Press – censorship, Buchanan, DORA. Finance – givernments
and bankers.

A dilletante, too thorough, comprehensive: penny dreadfuls, invasion stories, art history and drama, from Karl Kraus to Oh What a Lovely War.

Errors or mistaken emphasis: Fashoda, conjecture that Grey et al. exaggerated the threat of Germany despite intelligence, attempting to interpret stats on fatalities, wounded and prisoners, the Entente were better at killing, maiming and taking prisoners, Tommy gets angry with a Jerry prisoner, All
Quiet on the Western Front is not biography though Ferguson quotes from it as if it is. Remarque wasn’t a front line soldier. The Oxford Union as any kind of representative body for comment. That Belgium neutrality would have been breached by GB. That skilled workers lost to the war impacted our economy when women very effectively stepped in. That the EU in its current form might have emerged has GB stayed out of it. That waving Tommies are from a photo archive when they are grabs from the Battle of Somme footage.

Kinds of historian: cultural, military, diplomatic, economic.

Why was recruitment successful? Recruitment campaign, female pressure, peer and employer pressure, impulse, economic motives, and more?

Other historians and commentators:

Alan Clarke, Lidell Hart, John Terraine, Correlli Barret, Michael Howard, Norman Stone, Lafell, Bidwell, Graham, Travers, Holmes, Martin van Creveld, Dominic Graham, JMBourne, Michael Geyer, Martin Samuels, Gudmannskn, Paddy Griffith, Theo Balderston, Knaus and Hew Strachan.

With distinct sections on:

Finance and JMKeynes Writers

With a bit on poets, and rather less on films and art.

What did he leave out then?

  • Women
  • The Home Front
  • Technological developments, especially in the air


Fig.2. A brief response to the ten questions Ferguson poses at the start of the book and attempts to answer by the end – I’m not wholly convinced.

Sir Douglas Haig’s Great Push


Whilst specialist second hand book shops may from
time to time have specific books or partwork on the First World
War, today one off reprints from digitized catalogues make it
increasingly possible for the amateur hsitorian to research online
then purchase a book that interests them and have it infront of
them in a day or two. It may not have the look or feel of something
that would otherwise be over 90 years old, but its contents are
nonetheless fascinating. Reading a variety of sources has become
like switching channels. In time I have spent writing this I was
able to locate an eBook that ident is som of the combatants and
reer to it directly myself. ‘The Great Push’ makes extensive use of
stills or ‘grabs’ from film footage shot by Geoffrey Malins of the
Battle of the Somme. Partworks such as these fed an understandable
hunger for insight and news, whilst the hidden agenda of seeking
support for the conflict and its justification is obvious from the
ebullient language. With 50th, 90th and now the 100th anniversary
if these events upon us new generations of historians and amateur
sleuths are able to add yet more to the images, both still and
moving, that were captured at the time. As well as revisiting and
identifying the spot where a picture was taken, every effort is
made to identify any of those featured in the pictures. With the
power of tens of thousands via the Internet it is reasomable to
believe, that even 95 or more years on that yet more combatants
will be named and in so doing, as the relevant archives are so
readily available, to say who more of these people are – where they
were born and went to school, where they worked and where they
joined up, what service they have seen to date and how the war pans
out for them. The national habit has been to remember those who
died in combat, but of course all are now dead and the opportunity
therefore exists to remember a generation, not only those who took
a direct part, but those on ‘the home front’ who faced their own
trials and tribulations. I believe it is in this spirit that the
BBC is marking the events of 100 years ago. 20131017-030335.jpg

Keep died on the 17th July 1917 in the Ypres,
Salient. He was 24. As we can identify him, we can surely provide the names of his platoon and in doing so might others look through newspapers as well as their own family photographs to see if more names can bedpntdtocfacesc97 or more years after the event?


Not only do you often come across images taken from the film ‘The Battle of the Somme’ that make false claims to their content, but authors try to confer their copyright to the material. Whilst it was common practice of the times to quite crudely add black or white highlights to a photograph in an attempt to improve clarity. In an era of Photoshop these efforts look clunky.


Why should we remember the Battle of the Somme?

The Battle of the Somme

Suicide Squad – The Machine Gun Corps – 1916

Fig.1. Jack Wilson’s identity tag. He had it made while training in Grantham.

“We were put on parade one Saturday morning in early 1916, which was unusual”.

The next thing I know the Sergeant’s running up and down the line with the Red Cap picking out people’s names. He was a bit of a raw Geordie lad.

Afterwards I asked Quartermaster Sergeant Barwick what it was all about.

“What’s this?” 
I ask.

“You’re going to the suicide squad on Monday.” He replies.

Then he added.

“You’re off to Grantham.”

“What’s that?” I ask.

“On Monday, you’re off to Grantham. You’ve got to go”.

I had no choice in the matter.

And that’s how I was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, 35th Division, 104th Brigade Machine Gun Company (formed 27th April 1916).

I got a few days leave from Grantham before and then I didn’t get any leave whatsoever while I was out there through the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Passchendaele – about two and a half years. It was only when I came back to join the RFC that I got a week’s leave. Then I went back to Grantham. And of course I finished up on the RFC aerodrome at Crail, Scotland.

Fig.2. Machine Gun Training. I believe these are Canadians. Or could they be American?

“They were picking suitable looking fellows. They were copying the Germans”.

They went around all the infantry companies looking for suitable men. It was a heavy gun. The Vickers weighed over 28 pounds; the tripod 20 pounds and the water to cool the gun another 10 pounds.

They took about twenty from the Durham Light Infantry. The 7th Division was a Geordie regiment.

Billy Wrangham, who was 24, from Urpeth, Anfield Plane. His father was a Colliery Winding Engineerman – he was gassed. It could catch you on the hop. Billy had this gun and they had their masks on all day. He took his off in the afternoon being the corporal.

And Bowsbie.

George Toward lived behind the Royal Hotel; he was a regular billiard player. He was a year younger then me, only got in by a squeak. He was eighteen. He lied about his age. George lived at 19 Consett Rd, Castleside just along the road from us. His father was gas producer at the steelworks. He was the youngest of four. I remember his sisters Elizabeth and Jennie and his big brother Robert a married man of 28.

Sergeant-Major Barwick; he was a funny one.

If he felt happy he’d get up and have a little jig and a sing song. He was from Teams, Gateshead. They had four lovely kiddies. He’d bring them down to watch us parade and we’d carry them on our shoulders. We’d give them pennies and sweats. He was killed on the 6th October 1918 age 28. Son of Joseph and Maria Barwick from Teams, Gateshead. His wife went by the name of Theresa.

Tommy Collinson, was another one.

Tommy was a big strapping lad. He had a brother who was shot in the knee before the war; it got gangrene and was lost. Tommy was killed on the 5th November 1917 at Passchendaele – he was only 18.

And Billy Soulsby all from Askew Road, Gateshead.

He was a storekeeper by trade so they made him the quartermaster.

Those are some of the names I remember.

The rest of the company was made up from North Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumberland, Birmingham and Northumberland.

Grantham was a camp for transport and machine gunners.

“Even to get into your hut you were up to your knees in mud”.

Dreadful Porridge.


Interviews conducted by his grandson Jonathan F Vernon from 1989-1992. Recorded on digital audio tape and transcribed. Jack then reviewed a manuscript of large font printouts and added further notes, some in his own hand, some added by his grandson.


The 103rd Brigade was formed on 27th April 1916 and joined the 34th Division.

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