At the start of the First World War, cinema was relatively new to people and to governments. As the war progressed, it was soon realised that film could be an effective way of spreading a particular idea and mobilising the masses to a cause.
In Richmond, cinemas regularly showed newsreels and official war films which were intended to rally people behind the war effort. An Empire Cinema advert, which appears in the Richmond and Twickenham Times newspaper in 1914, states that ‘the latest war news is thrown on screen at frequent intervals’. The First World War was ‘everybody’s war’: the civilian population on the Home Front faced acute shortages of resources and terrifying Zeppelin air raids. They also donned uniforms, took up war work and were subject to the loss of husbands, brothers, friends, and neighbours. It was very important to the British government that in this environment of ‘total war’, morale on the Home Front was kept up. Propaganda films were designed to encourage hatred of the enemy, convince people of reasons for going to war, and to encourage civilians to do their bit for the war effort.
The Battle of the Somme (1916) is a British documentary and propaganda film which was watched by around 20 million people in its first six weeks of showing at cinemas across the country. It was shown to the public in order to boost morale and to give people on the Home Front an idea of what British soldiers were doing on the front lines. The Lyric in Twickenham showed the film in November 1916. The Times reported of the documentary:
“Crowded audiences…were interested and thrilled to have the realities of war brought so vividly before them…opinion seems to be general that it was wise that the people should have this glimpse of what our soldiers are doing and daring and suffering.”
Theatrical and cinematic entertainment in Richmond during the First World War is being explored in an AHRC funded project After Tipperary. For more information on the project, contact Daniella Hadley at Daniella.Hadley@richmond.gov.uk.