Shells burst on the horizon during what a title says is a German counter-attack. The camera pans across a desolate valley ending on a cross marking a grave. Another shell bursts behind a scene of discarded bicycles and tools. A NSW battalion musters for a roll call. Casualties are unloaded at a Casualty Clearing Station behind the lines. Doctors perform surgery on a man’s neck. In the hospital wards, a nurse tends to the wounded after they have been patched up. In a cemetery beside a road, an officer reads from a Bible at a small funeral, as a mounted column with wagons passes along the road behind them.
The mystery thickens. These battle scenes are from the third reel of the film, which has a completely different style of titles to the first two reels. In reels one and two, the titles are set against a grey background, but at the reel change, they are suddenly white titles on black, suggesting that these were added later, or came from some other film. The change in title style might support either theory – that the titles were cobbled together by Jury, or that they were added by Bean later, to correct Jury. If that were so, why would it only be in the third reel? Do these scenes even show Pozières?
There is mystery about the shot across the desolate valley, ending up with a cross in the foreground (just before the wrecked bicycles). This same shot appears in another film, The Australians at Messines (1917), shot a year or more later (in June 1917) by Herbert Baldwin. They can’t both be correct. With the Australians in France 1916 was originally put together in January 1917 – the first ‘Bean version’ – which would suggest that the labelling of it as Messines Ridge in the later film is incorrect. We cannot be certain, because of the ‘butchering’ of this film by William Jury’s office (see main notes). Bean didn’t see this film again until January 1918, so it is just possible that it includes later footage.
The funeral scene is very unusual in the films made on the Western Front, in which dead soldiers are almost never seen. A photograph at the AWM (EZ0064) identifies this as ‘a burial service for a fallen Australian in a cemetery in a wood near a château that housed a casualty clearing station’. The hospital scene is unlikely to be from the château’s dressing station. The truck unloads men whose wounds are already temporarily dressed, in a town still occupied by French women and children. The scenes inside the operating theatre are remarkable, and quite rare. There are many scenes of wounded being cared for in hospital beds but few scenes inside an operating theatre. Note that neither the doctor nor his assistant wears a face mask in the first shot.
There may be four different people in these two shots, rather than two shots of the same pair. The second shot appears to show a different doctor than in the first shot (no white showing on the second doctor’s left sleeve). There are probably two tables operating at once in this room. A note in Bean’s diary from January 1917 (AWM38,3DRL606/69/1, p 5) outlines a plan for part of a film he calls With the Anzacs. He mentions shots of wounded at Estaires, which is about 12 kilometres west of Fromelles. The 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station was based at Estaires during the battle of Fromelles, which raises the possibility that these scenes show wounded from that battle. Bean mentions that he had collected scenes from Fleurbaix with the British photographers. Fleurbaix is the name he used originally for Fromelles. He notes ‘nurses (wounded in ward)’, under the ‘Wounded at Estaires’ heading, which suggests that the ward is in Estaires.