Oldhamers on Film

This blog was researched by Roger Ivens from Oldham Local Studies and Archives

At the Battle of the Somme the Oldham Pals formed the Pioneer Battalion for the 7th Division which occupied trenches opposite the German held fortified village of Mametz. During the lead up to the attack the Pals was involved in the construction of defensive and preparatory work, including gun pits, first aid posts, machine gun emplacements, etc, in the area around Fricourt, Mametz, and Carnoy. The battalion was also involved in the construction of Fort Oldham, a strong redoubt in the British support line.

On the evening of the attack the Royal Engineers of the 7th Division along with the Oldham Pals held an open-air concert in the wood. Meanwhile in another part of the wood a Church of England service was being held, conducted by a former minister of St. Mary’s Parish Church, Oldham. This particular scene was filmed by John McDowell, one of two official cinematographers commissioned to compile footage for what became the documentary film ‘The Battle of the Somme’. McDowell also filmed the dressing station at Minden Post on the opening day of the battle which also featured shots of men from the Oldham Pals waiting to go up into the line.

As a postscript, on 25 July 1916 the Oldham Chronicle published a letter from a Royton soldier serving with the Royal Fusiliers:

We went straight to the support trenches the same night, and next morning I experienced my first charge, in which we took four lines of trenches. This was on Friday morning, July 7th. You ought to have seen the Germans getting up out of the trenches to give themselves up. They got up in big batches with their hands uplifted, shouting ‘Mercy Kamerad.’ I helped to march a batch down, and a fellow was taking moving pictures, and an R.A.M.C. man and I got amongst a bunch and so got on the film…

The film ‘The Battle of the Somme’ was shown at the King’s Picture Hall in Oldham in September 1916. Unfortunately there is no record as to whether anyone in the audience was able to recognise any of the men from the Oldham Pals or the Royal Fusilier from Royton in the film.

A still taken from the 1916 documentary film The Battle of the Somme
A still taken from the 1916 documentary film The Battle of the Somme

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