Mounted transport columns move up the Albert-Bapaume Road, skirting a large crater created by a German mine. The road runs beside a light railway line recently built by the Australian Pioneers (see clip one). A tank lumbers over the shell holes with advancing infantry towards the still-burning town of Bapaume, occupied by Australian troops on 17 March 1917. The town has been set alight by the withdrawing German forces, in order to deny the advancing troops anything useful – including places to stay. Some Australian soldiers warm themselves in front of the burning shell of a building.
We can be reasonably certain of the accuracy of these titles, unlike some other parts of the film, because we know that Charles Bean and the official photographers Herbert Baldwin and Ernest Brooks were in Bapaume filming on 17 March 1917. Bean’s diary records their visit and his displeasure at Brooks’s actions once they returned to their base (see main notes).
The images of Bapaume burning are remarkable because so much of the fighting on the Western Front was rural. Here we can see the impact of war close up and very soon after the German withdrawal – a blackened shoe shop (Duflos – Baroux) next to another shop with ‘Prix Reduit’ over its doors (‘reduced prices’). Soldiers are cleaning up the streets of debris, laying communications cables or just ‘warming themselves’, as they enjoy posing for the camera. Some of these soldiers are almost certainly members of the 30th Battalion (NSW), since they are identified as such in the still photographs taken at the same time. In Volume IV of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 (1941), Bean records a summary of German records, which states that they set 400 fires in Bapaume before withdrawing.
Ian Jackson, a curator of photographs at the Australian War Memorial, writes:
The emphasis on the amount of destruction in Bapaume in this film was very much in keeping with the theme of Allied propaganda at the time, which used it to portray the Germans as barbaric and destructive occupiers and didn’t mention the military reasons for their actions (or indeed that Allied shellfire presumably also damaged the town). The 'capture’ of the town was also initially presented as a significant victory. This helps explains why there was more than one photographer present, and perhaps why there was more footage of Bapaume than Bullecourt available. See for example the coverage of the (exaggerated) 'Battle of Bapaume’ in Sons of Our Empire, held by the Imperial War Museum in London (IWM 130-01+2).